World Stamps

Saudi Arabia issued anti-smoking stamps in 1980: Middle East Stamps

Apr 29, 2021, 5 PM

By Ghassan Riachi

Each year, the World Health Organization selects a different theme for World Health Day, April 7. In 1980 the theme was “Smoking or health? The choice is in your hands.” 

We now know that smoking can lead to different cancers, emphysema, heart attacks, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and much more. The world was just beginning to understand the severe effects that smoking had on one’s body back in 1980.

In conjunction with this anti-smoking theme, the Saudi government issued a set of two commemorative stamps May 20, 1980 (Scott 792-793). 

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The set is very affordable. In mint condition and in the grade of very fine, it has a value of $6 in the 2016 Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. In used condition, it is worth far less, 55¢.

The Directorate General of Posts designed the stamps. The 20-halala stamp is vertically formatted, and the 50h stamp is horizontally formatted. Both stamps are perforated gauge 14. 

The Government Security Printing Press in Riyadh printed the stamps in sheets of 50 on white, unwatermarked paper. The quantity issued was 400,000 sets.

The main design of the 20h stamp shows a silhouette of a man smoking, and his lungs and trachea can be seen through his form. It appears that the designer used the color gray to represent polluted air passages.

The writing in red on the man’s head is the Arabic equivalent for “Smoking or health? The choice is in your hands.” Behind the head is the Hijri year 1400, which, in this case, corresponds to 1980. Right below the cigarette is the WHO emblem. 

In the bottom center is the Arabic equivalent of “Combat Smoking” in blue. These words are flanked by the denomination and currency in the bottom two corners, English at left and Arabic at right.

At the top of the 20h stamp are the words Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spelled out in Arabic at right and the initials “K.S.A.” in English at left.

Two designs occupy the center of the 50h stamp. At left, a no-smoking sign is depicted and to its right is the emblem of the WHO. Below the emblem is the slogan in Arabic, “Smoking or health? The choice is in your hands.”

On the bottom center of the stamp is the “Combat Smoking” slogan in Arabic with the Hijri year of 1400 at its left. Both are flanked by the denomination and currency, in English at left and Arabic at right.

The name of the country, in blue, appears at the top of the 50h stamp just as on the 20h denomination.

The stamps can be found on first-day covers, as well as on commercial and philatelic covers.

I have seen a large envelope that is franked with 11 sets of this issue. The envelope is philatelically inspired and very colorful.

Below the listing of the stamp set in the Scott catalog is the statement that imperforates exist, but I have not seen any. I have, however, seen fake single stamps from either denomination with trimmed perforations to make them appear imperforate, so collectors beware.

Smoking is common in the Middle East, and even stamp collectors seem to ignore the message on these two stamps. 

Writing about this set brings back memories of an old stamp collector friend, George, who I knew in Lebanon. 

At the time when I was living in Lebanon, all the stamp collectors that I knew were smokers, including George. As a matter of fact, he was a heavy smoker, smoking at least two packs of cigarettes every day. When I visited him, I would hear him coughing constantly. 

George was in his 70s when his wife passed away. Despite his sons’ objections, he was adamant about living alone in the house. For his own protection, his sons hired a man to look after their father. 

The care provider complained to me many times that George was incapable of putting the cigarette down, not even taking a break when bathing or showering.

In the 1990s, when I returned to Lebanon for a visit, I saw George’s care provider. He told me that at the end of one summer day, George sat in his recliner to watch television with a cigarette in his hand. He fell asleep and never woke up. George’s last companion was a cigarette. 

Everyone knows that you are not supposed to smoke around stamps, but George ignored this and kept charring stamps and dropping ashes on them. 

Oftentimes, he would use his bare fingers instead of tongs to handle his stamps. As a smoker, George’s fingers were somewhat stained, and some of the stain was invariably transmitted onto the stamps. Also, his stock books smelled like cigarettes.

It is obvious that this anti-smoking campaign fell on deaf ears when it came to George.