Objective: To assess tobacco use and the awareness of and attitudes towards tobacco and its control in the adult population of Tunisia.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in 1996 of a representative national sample of 5696 subjects aged 25 and over. Data were collected by means of a questionnaire in Arabic.
Findings: Tobacco use was reported by 30.4% of the respondents, of whom 24.6% smoked cigarettes and 5.8% consumed traditional tobacco, i.e. snuff, chewing tobacco and/or water pipe tobacco. Whereas 55.6% of men used tobacco, only 5.2% of women did so. Among men the proportion of tobacco users diminished with age as the rate of cessation increased. Among women, smoking peaked in the 35-54 age group. The proportion of men consuming traditional tobacco alone increased from 2.4% in the 25-34 age group to 20.4% in the 55+ age group; the corresponding values for women were 0.1% and 14.3%. Tobacco use was more widespread in rural than in urban areas and was relatively high among poorly educated men from economically deprived backgrounds. The use of tobacco was believed to be harmful to health by 98.6% of the respondents. Over 90% of the interviewees were aware that tobacco played a part in the development of heart disease. However, there were some gaps in awareness. A fear of cancer was expressed by 85% of the respondents, whereas only 5.6% were fearful of accidents.
Conclusions: Informational and educational campaigns relating to tobacco control should be directed at individuals and communities, taking into account the gaps in awareness of the effects of tobacco on health.