06/30/2009, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi anti-smoking campaign offers fabulous wedding

Hundreds of young men are interested in the initiative. Winner gets an all-expenses paid wedding, including party, dowry and furnished house. Women complain that the campaign objectifies women’s bodies. Others doubt it conforms to clerics’ rulings.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Quit smoking and you get a fabulous wedding, including an expensive party, a dowry and a fully furnished house. This is the offer of a Saudi charity, Purity, which wants to promote a smoke-free family life.

With the catchy slogan, “Kicking the habit is on you, and marriage is on us,” Purity wants to entice young grooms to give up smoking. And indeed hundreds have expressed interest in what is the first anti-smoking drive of its kind in the kingdom.

One interested man said that he wouldn’t have attempted to quit without the new incentive to win the all-expenses paid wedding.

At a time of economic crisis incentives are very attractive, especially for weddings because in this Arab country the groom alone bears the cost of getting married and paying for the ceremony, the dowry and the home. In fact, more and more young men are having to delay their marriage until they have enough money.

Many women are not that pleased though, upset that such a campaign objectifies women’s body.

Maha al-Hujailan, and editorial writer for al-Watan, said that the concept is sexist. “The campaign stems from an idea directed at male smokers: ‘Give up having fun with a cigarette and take a woman instead’.”

One commentator noted that Arabs have criticised the West for using women to promote merchandise. “Today, we're using ... the same two-in-one method”.

Organisers have rejected such criticism, arguing that they are not providing women or wives to would-be grooms, but only paying for the wedding and the house.

“In any case, the fact that people are discussing the campaign means we have fulfilled our goal of spreading the word about it,” said a marketing savvy spokesman for the charity.

According to a recent survey, about one quarter of Saudi Arabia’s 27.6 million residents indulge in smoking. One school-age child in three lives in a family in which at least one member is a smoker.

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