Doctors in the UAE hailed the recent Cabinet decision to increase excise tax on unhealthy products. But beyond increasing prices, they said the move also shines the spotlight on their constant reminder: Too much sugar and all forms of smoking are bad for you.

Beginning January 1 next year, there will be a 50-per-cent excise tax on products with added sugar and sweeteners, whether in the form of a beverage, liquid, concentrate, powders or any product that can be converted into a drink.

A 100-per-cent excise tax will also be levied on electronic smoking devices, regardless of whether or not they contain nicotine or tobacco.

With the higher prices that residents would have to pay for non-fizzy drinks with high sugar content, doctors hope they would be reminded to choose healthier options.

Excessive consumption of sugary drinks would increase the odds of putting on weight, and obesity is a major cause of some cancers, doctors said.

Dr Cherian Thampy, medical oncologist at NMC Specialty Hospital Abu Dhabi, said: "The recent study published in British Medical Journal regarding the cancer risk and sugary drinks is alarming. This study was done in more than 100,000 people for five years.

"It is very clear that obesity is identified as a major risk factor for some cancers like breast cancer, uterine cancer and cancer of the colon."

Dr Thampy stressed that it is proven beyond doubt that a balanced diet and physical exercise activities can reduce cancer risk to some extent.

Dr Vikram Hundia, consultant endocrinologist at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, said residents must understand that the additional tax "is a small price to pay for the larger good of our society".

"A patient with diabetes or suffered a heart attack or stroke can tell the damage these diseases do to their health - as well as the social, economic and financial burden these conditions inflict on them. A large part of this problem can be attributed to our unhealthy lifestyle and the wrong choices we make," he said.

'Vaping not a way to quit smoking'

Levying tax on electronic smoking devices, on the other hand, gives healthcare experts the opportunity to emphasise that such items cannot be considered a 'healthier option'.

Dr Sherif Fayed, pulmonology consultant at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, warned that using e-cigarettes is "not a way to quit smoking because these can become an addiction by itself".

"People are using it (vaping) to change the habit of holding the cigarettes and as replacement for the nicotine in the cigarettes," he noted.

He said studies in the US and the UAE have shown links between e-cigarettes and epilepsy, and it also causes gingivitis.

"Also, the glycerol and flavours in the e-cigarettes caused infection in the bronchi," he added.

Dr Emaduldeen Ibrahim, chest disease consultant at Al Zahra Hospital Sharjah, said vaping can lead to cardiac disease, hypertension, asthma and mouth cancer

"Another problem is the heating coil voltage and temperature, which can cause lung diseases," he added.

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