Objective: To estimate the prevalence of smoking among Saudi rural secondary school students and to explore their attitudes towards smoking.
Design: A cross-sectional study was conducted during May and June 1993, using a modified and translated version of the World Health Organization (WHO) standard questionnaire for the survey of smoking. Six rural male secondary schools near Riyadh were randomly selected, and 358 students representing half of the classes were included.
Results: Current smokers represented 17% of the students. The most common reasons for smoking were desire (32%), idleness (28%), imitation (22%) and enjoyment (20%). The majority knew about and understood the hazards of smoking. Around half of the smokers had started the habit before the age of 15. The media were the primary source of knowledge about smoking hazards for 66% of students; doctors (45%) and educators (30%) had a less significant role. Religion was the most important reason for not smoking among non-smokers. Financial reasons were less important (11%), probably reflecting the relatively cheap price of cigarettes.
Conclusion: The size of the smoking problem is big enough to be considered a warning of an impending epidemic. Schools should have a greater role in health education. The government should adopt a policy of regular increases in cigarette taxes to cover part of the cost of treating smoking-related diseases.