RAK // Women are smoking shisha in the mistaken belief that it can help them lose weight and will not harm their health, a doctor has warned at an anti-tobacco conference. Dr Salah Ali Abdulrahman said shisha pipes were increasingly popular among women. He estimated that about one in four women in the UAE regularly smoke shisha, while slightly less than 15 per cent were cigarette smokers.
"There are many misconceptions regarding water pipes," Dr Abdulrahman said. "The first of these misconceptions is that it is without many health risks. The second is that it can reduce weight. The third is that it can reduce anger and pressure. "In fact, the water pipe has greater hazards than cigarettes. One session with the water pipe, usually only 30 minutes or an hour, is equivalent to 20 cigarettes.
"The other factor is that it can transmit infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and upper respiratory tract infections. "The risk of lip, mouth and larynx cancer is also higher with the water pipe in comparison to cigarettes. He added: "Cigarettes, cigars, water pipe - they are all different types of tobacco products but in the end the result is the same. It is important to remember the effect is cumulative. If it starts earlier, the risk of disease is higher."
The RAK Municipality and the RAK medical district have embarked on an extensive anti-tobacco campaign that will run until May. This week's conference was designed to raise awareness of the dangers of cigarette and shisha smoking, with an emphasis on women and young people. "Eighty per cent of smokers start their first cigarette below the age of 18," said Dr Abdulrahman, a member of Bahrain's Council of Representatives.
"The tobacco companies target two groups: youth and women. The number of deaths annually is five million [around the world]. "Cigarettes kill one person every eight seconds, eight people every 60 seconds, 10,000 people every 24 hours." Teenagers in the emirate say they can buy the tobacco easily. "In Dubai stores would be shut down and they are very strict. But in RAK they don't check," agreed Majid, 20.
"Boys usually start around 14 or 15, sometimes 13. All of them have the same story. First, he was around second-hand smoke, with his friends and his brothers." Smoking among women in RAK remains lower than neighbouring emirates. Shisha cafes, traditionally the domain of men, now offer private family rooms for female clientele but women visitors are still rare. Midwakh vendors have made the traditional pipe more attractive by creating dry fruit-flavoured tobacco.
Midwakh and shisha pipes are still considered an acceptable form of smoking that does not carry the stigma of cigarettes. Pedram Abdul Aziz Bolooki, a 22-year-old student at Al Ghurair University, explained: "In my Iranian culture if you are smoking cigarette they are thinking, 'He's a bad boy for sure'. "And if you are smoking midwakh it is natural. If I go back to Iran and my family and friends and girlfriends see me, they are thinking this is the pipe.
"The pipe doesn't have the bad picture. It is for normal people; it is just for entertainment." Mubarak Ali al Shamsi, the director general of the municipality, said fighting tobacco use was the responsibility of everyone and that RAK could build a smoke-free community. The municipality banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces this month and threatened fines of Dh5,000 for companies that violate the rules.
Dr Abdulrahman also stressed the importance of a healthy workplace and family environment in the anti-tobacco campaign. "Tobacco killed 100m people in the last century. It will kill 1 billion in the 21st century unless action is taken," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org