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Quit smoking and win a free wedding

THE catchy slogan, "Kicking the habit is on you, and marriage is on us," is meant to entice young grooms in Saudi Arabia to give up smoking by offering an attractive incentive.

And, indeed, hundreds have expressed interest in the first anti-smoking drive of its kind in the kingdom, with one man saying he is ready to take up smoking just to be eligible for the grand prize - an all-expenses-paid wedding.

In much of the Arab world, the groom alone bears the cost of getting married, including an expensive party, a dowry and a fully furnished house. Men often put off marriage until they've saved enough money to take a bride.

Several commentators have complained that the campaign is turning women into a commodity, but organizers have taken the criticism in their stride, saying they're thrilled to get people talking about the dangers of smoking. About one quarter of Saudi Arabia's 27.6 million residents indulge.

Since June 20, banners have gone up on overpasses and bridges over Saudi capital Riyadh's major highways, depicting the campaign slogan in pink and reddish brown. Next to it are the faceless outlines of a bride, dressed in white and carrying a bouquet, and of a man wearing a black, ceremonial cloak over his white thobe, the traditional robe Saudi men wear.

The quit-smoking-drive is also being advertised in malls, at universities and in magazines.

The organizer, a local charity called Purity, stipulates that the marriage is the man's first and that he has a recent marriage contract. In Islam, the contract is usually signed before a couple moves in together.

A draw on August 6 will include the names of the men who successfully quit smoking in a weeklong course. The winner will have all wedding expenses paid while 20 runners-up will get free furniture.

Sulaiman al-Soby, secretary general of Purity, said the aim is to create a smoke-free family. One-third of Saudi children live in homes with smokers, according to a 2007 health survey.

Al-Soby said he expects thousands to take part in the campaign, which only covers the capital, a metropolis of 5 million.

Salem al-Majdali, a spokesman for the charity, said hundreds of men have already applied or called to get more information. One wanted to know if the charity also provides the bride.


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