Smoking rates are unacceptably high among Muslim communities globally. Even among Muslims living in Europe, smoking prevalence (particularly among men) remains high. In Western countries, smoking related disease is estimated to cost the NHS 1.7bn a year. Reducing smoking prevalence is thus a priority for many governments.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh analysed data on smoking prevalence for the 30 countries with the highest proportion of Muslims.
Smoking rates in each of these countries is significantly higher among men than women. The highest recorded rates among men are in Indonesia and Yemen, where over two thirds smoke. Yemen also has the highest prevalence of smoking among women, where almost a third smoke.
Only Iran and Syria have a complete ban on smoking in public places, although Indonesia is considering such a ban, but legislation is often poorly enforced. Furthermore, only 14 of the countries studied have signed up to the World Health Organisation's antismoking treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Numerous religious scholars and institutions in Middle Eastern and North African countries have recently declared smoking to be haram (prohibited). However, the general view from the Indian subcontinent is that smoking is mukrooh (lawful though discouraged).
South Asian religious authorities need to follow the leadership shown by their Arab speaking counterparts, say the authors. But, despite calls for British Muslim leaders to clarify the religious unacceptability of smoking, no such position statement has emerged.
The authors believe that it is only a matter of time before South Asian scholars rule that smoking is prohibited and these rulings percolate through South Asian Muslim communities globally.