Working for a tobacco-free Jordan
Lubna Awidi Abbadi holds a BA in Translation and an MA in International Child Welfare. She previously worked at the UNU-ILI and the National Council for Family Affairs but is now a stay-at-home mother. She has volunteered at an orphans institution and Dar al Aman. She says she is very passionate about Tobacco Free Jordan (http://www.smokefreejo.com/) because she is a law-abiding citizen and believes that since laws exist for the benefit of the people then these laws should and must be implemented.
“I also love my Jordan and see that in order for us to move forward as a civilized country we need to implement the laws and the international agreements that we sign, and most importantly I am a mother and believe that it is my duty to fight for my children’s health and future and the health and future of the children of Jordan.”
What drove you to be one of the anti-tobacco activists in Jordan?
Studies and research have shown that tobacco is the common factor for most of the main causes of death in Jordan. In addition, the prevalence of tobacco use among youth and its popularity among children as it is being viewed as a “cool” trend among young people show that our country is heading towards an epidemic. We fear for our children, their future and their rights, and that is why we are calling for full enforcement of the tobacco-related laws; including the full enforcement of the health law which prohibits indoor smoking and the selling of tobacco products to children 18 years old and younger.
Please tell us briefly about your achievements in the field of tobacco control?
Our major achievement is our Tobacco Free Jordan Facebook page which is one of the biggest anti-tobacco Facebook pages in the world with more than 730,000 followers. In addition, we have a children’s book, an anti-tobacco song, and an animated video which, when used together, make a curriculum for young children which we use during the school awareness sessions that we conduct. And most importantly, our NGO was chosen by His Majesty King Abdullah II as one of the Jordanian Success Stories that have positively affected the lives of Jordanians, and the country in general.
Please tell us about Tobacco Free Jordan organization: its mission, its partners, its role in encouraging people to quit smoking, and in advocating for strict enforcement for the public health law that prohibits smoking in public places in Jordan, and the important outcomes and impacts the organization achieved.
Our main mission at Tobacco Free Jordan is to protect the Jordanian society, especially the children, from the hazards of smoking through spreading health awareness and cooperating with governmental and non-governmental organizations to modify and implement anti-tobacco laws.
Since our establishment in 2011, our main partners and supporters have been Pikasso Advertising, Awar, the National Press, and Media Plus. We have also partnered with Family Flavors, the Children’s Museum, and the We Love Reading initiative. In addition, we signed upcoming partnerships with Manaseer Gas, Tkiyet Um Ali, and Greater Amman Municipality (GAM).
Our Facebook page has been a great approach to help people quit smoking; as many of our followers benefit from the topics and information we share about quitting smoking. Also, our awareness sessions in schools and universities can help people to quit smoking.
You told us that you prepared a curriculum for school students on tobacco control: how did the idea start, what is the objective of this curriculum, and what are the main topics that this curriculum covers?
I think the idea started from the fact that we are mothers and we deal with young kids all the time, and we found that there is a need to talk to the children about the secondhand smoke that they are exposed to in their homes, at school and literally wherever they go. We need to educate these young minds in an interactive way, focusing on the advantages of living in a smoke-free environment as well as on health law 47/2008.
The first part of our curriculum is our book, My Smoke-Free Life, which is available in both English and Arabic. It is full of beautiful illustrations and minimal text, and is suitable for kids aged 3-8 years of age; which cover grades from kindergarten to third grade. The second part of our curriculum is our song “La Liltadkheen,” literally meaning “no to smoking;” which is also the name of our organization in Arabic. The aim is to emphasize that we want to portray the “coolness” of being a non-smoker and living in a smoke-free environment. We play this song during our presentations, again, focusing on the law. That way we make sure that the children remember it.
Our last addition to this elementary school package is the animated video that we produced, it features “cigarette smoke” as the bad guys who invade the body till they take control over the brain, and one is addicted; at the same time portraying the ill health of the smoker. All of it is intended to raise questions, all of the sessions we hold are highly interactive.
We also hold interactive school sessions for older kids and we focus on tobacco company tactics, human rights and finances much more than health issues. This raises many questions and exposes how unethical these companies are.
Have you started teaching this curriculum? If yes for what grades, which schools, and who teaches this curriculum for students?
Yes, we have been teaching this curriculum for the past two years and we focus on all grades although our curriculum specifically covers the grades from kindergarten to third grade.
We have held many sessions in private schools. We also targeted the public schools through the Madrasati initiative and IFMSA students. This curriculum is mainly taught by another founding member in our organization, Dr. Larissa Al Uar.
What are the main outcomes you observed through teaching this curriculum: Tell us if the students’ knowledge regarding tobacco and its harms changed to positive, and if students were interactive in the class.
The sessions we hold are highly interactive and the students always leave highly knowledgeable. Students are more aware of their rights and the harms of tobacco and pressure the people around them. They also change their view of tobacco products from a mainly positive to a negative one. We get feedback from the schools that they are called by parents telling them that their homes have become smoke-free zones because of the pressure their kids are exerting and some parents actually quit smoking.
You met with His Majesty King Abdullah II and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah: could you please tell us about this meeting, how it was organized, and how the acknowledgment you received encouraged you to work more in the field of tobacco control?
I had previously received a grant from BADIR; a program under the umbrella of the International Youth Foundation which equips Jordanian youth with the knowledge and skills they need to strengthen and scale up their social change projects. A few months ago BADIR announced that they would be giving another grant for some of their previously funded projects. I applied for that grant and got through the first phase. I was waiting to hear if I was chosen from the final 10 when I got the call that our project was chosen by the Royal Hashemite Court as one of five projects chosen from the BADIR program. BADIR have been very supportive of our NGO from the first time they funded us. We were able to use the funds for the printing of our billboard posters in addition to partially funding our animated video. The training they gave me also helped me in making new connections through the other BADIR fellows.
The acknowledgment we received gave us the push we needed not to give up on what we do and to fight harder for the implementation of the laws. It also gave us the hope that the laws will be implemented in the near future.
Tobacco Free Jordan is always advocating for enforcing the public health law that prohibits smoking in public places, from your point of view, did you notice a positive trend from people towards the public health law?
I have noticed some change; some restaurants are now heading toward becoming completely smoke free, many people are now more aware of the hazards of indoor and secondhand smoking and have decided to smoke outside. In addition, I feel that people around us now have more respect to the fact that there is a law and that people do have the right to breathe fresh air. Change is happening slowly but surely.
Tobacco Free Jordan is active in social media and it is using interactive ways to engage people; could you please tell us about these ways, and about the effect the Tobacco Free Jordan social media pages have in spreading awareness regarding tobacco control among the followers.
Posting the success stories of people quitting smoking has helped so many people quit, and many followers have shared their experiences to benefit others. We also keep posting the different statistics, studies, facts, and videos and pictures of people breaking the law and asking the followers to comment on them or share them. This has also given us a large audience who want to participate and be part of the movement to change the situation to the better.
Are you using other forms rather than social media in spreading awareness regarding tobacco control?
We have had billboard campaigns (Pikasso) for which we also won two awards (D’OR citizens billboard award). We have also had radio interviews (Majaz FM, Play FM), and have appeared on TV programs (JTV, Roya). In addition, we were featured, through articles and ads, in Family Flavours magazine, in both the Arabic and English editions.