ABU DHABI // There are plenty of names for the region's traditional form of smoking - hooka, narghile, shisha or hubbly bubbly - but not so many statistics about its harmful effects.
This could be resolved, health officials say, through an all-encompassing local study.
Smoking shisha is a popular pastime across the region, particularly in the UAE where, according to a 2008 study by the World Health Organisation, more than a fifth of the population smokes some form of tobacco.
Without local data, pinpointing the health effects is difficult, said Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, the head of the Ministry of Health's tobacco control committee.
"A national study would provide a more in-depth look into the matter and clear up any misconceptions about shisha, which, with its presentation and aroma, can be deceptive," Dr Al Maidoor said. "The market for shisha is the flavour, that it is a luxury and that it is social. All of these things make it more and more attractive.
"Also, it is linked with the traditions of this country, which is a lie. All of this culture is imported.
"We should more and more put it under the microscope and show people the dangers of shisha."
With the results of the country's first census in more than five years - carried out last year - to be made public soon, a study of the nation's tobacco habits could finally take place, Dr Al Maidoor said.
"With the census, maybe we will be able to go ahead with our survey to detail how people smoke shisha and midwakh [a small pipe filled with dokha, an Iranian tobacco], if they smoke on a daily basis, and what the common perceptions are."
Smoking shisha remains an area of continuous interest for the Dubai Health Authority.
But the lack of an all-encompassing study has hampered its ability to assess the problems.
"We are interested in doing campaigns for teens regarding smoking and tobacco, so because of that we are interested to know more information about the levels of [consumption in] Dubai, in the UAE, as well as discovering how much [people] use shisha. But there is no study into this matter," said Dr Hanan Obaid, the head of the authority's community health services programme section.
For the time being, without solid data, doctors in the country refer to external sources.
"There is not much localised information available at the moment," said Dr Aamrah Shah, a primary care specialist at the American Hospital Dubai.
Referring to data from the UK's National Health Service, Dr Shah said that one shisha is equivalent to smoking 20 to 40 cigarettes, although this number can increase.
"Because the session lasts about one hour, that's why the smoker can inhale as much [as they would] from 100 cigarettes."
With a number of reputable international studies providing evidence about the dangers of smoking shisha, the UAE does not need to wait for its own to begin making changes, Dr Al Maidoor said.
An anti-tobacco law, issued in 2009 by the Ministry of Health and approved in January 2010 by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, has been delayed.
The law, which gave shisha cafes in residential areas two years to move to less populated areas, was meant to be given the green light this month.
"We are not waiting for a national study. We are waiting for the cabinet to approve the by-law. That's it," said Dr Al Maidoor. "After the approval, we can apply it and reinforce it and take all the measures."
But attitudes to shisha are ingrained. Hussein Abu Dhahab, a 40-year-old Egyptian petroleum engineer, has smoked from a water pipe almost daily for 11 years.
"I like it. I smoke maybe four or five times a day. I know it's very bad but this is the [general] attitude."
Having gathered his information from newspapers, all of which bemoan the dangers surrounding shisha, the father of three has found a way to compromise.
"See that?" he asked, pointing to a fellow smoker's shisha. "With the foil [on the bowl] the gases created are very dangerous. Also, it will take an hour to smoke."
An anti-tinfoil advocate, he claims that setting up a shisha with the coals directly on the clay or ceramic bowl is healthier, because the session lasts just 10 minutes.
Despite having dedicated countless hours to smoking tobacco through a water pipe, he draws a line when it comes to some tobacco.
"I won't smoke cigarettes. They are dangerous," he said, laughing.