x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Shisha more toxic than cigarettes, claims study

UK research group reignites debate over the dangers to health of water pipes.

Report by UK research group reignites debate over the dangers to health of water pipes, with one critic dismissing it as 'scaremongering.'
Report by UK research group reignites debate over the dangers to health of water pipes, with one critic dismissing it as 'scaremongering.'

ABU DHABI // Take any random group of people in the UAE, and chances are there will be one who has heard that shisha smoking is a bigger health hazard than cigarettes, another will believe it is about the same, but few will claim it does no harm.

A recent study in Britain could help clarify the debate. The Centre for Tobacco Control Research found that a half-hour shisha session exposed the individual to carbon monoxide levels equivalent at least to smoking four or five cigarettes. According to the centre's Dr Hilary Wareing, a shisha session - defined as one in which 10mg of fruit tobacco is smoked for 30 minutes - gave carbon monoxide levels four or five times higher than a cigarette.

At worst, shisha smoking could be 400 to 450 times as harmful as cigarettes, she said. The level of intake varied with differences in smokers' inhalations. The study's tests, as reported by the BBC, showed that shisha smokers had 40 to 70 parts of carbon monoxide per million parts of air (ppm) in their breath - affecting 8 to 12 per cent of their blood. In comparison, a light smoker typically has 10-20 ppm in his or her breath.

But academics are divided on the findings, with another researcher, Paris-based Dr Kamal Chaouachi, telling media that the report was "scaremongering" and questioning it for not having been published in a scientific journal. According to Dr Bassam Mahboub, a chest physician and vice chairman of the Emirates Respiratory Society, previous studies indicated that one shisha session exposed the smoker to as much nicotine as a packet of cigarettes.

Shisha also tended to increase blood pressure and could increase the risk of heart attacks, he said, as well as cancer. "By using this smoking method, you're inhaling through a pipe and it goes to the inner parts of your lungs," Dr Mahboub said. That would "most likely" expose the smoker to risks of cancer. Shisha smokers in the capital acknowledged there were health risks, but some felt that by limiting their time with the water pipe and even altering the way they used it, they could reduce the harmful effects.

Eslam Nafie, 40, a banker from Egypt, is one smoker who has been trying to modify his method of smoking to rotect his health. "I take some of the fresh air before I inhale the smoke itself," he said. When he starts to "feel the effects" - if his throat seems "clogged" - Mr Nafie cuts back. "I don't smoke often," he said, adding that for him, shisha was more of a social thing. Similarly, Sultan Mohammed, 27, an Emirati policeman, said he smoked shisha about once every five days. "I know it's bad, but you come here and you are happy," he said as he puffed on a shisha in a cafe in Abu Dhabi.

A shisha cafe owner in the capital said that while the habit might not be good for health, the same could be said for many daily activities, such as drinking tea or coffee. "If you look at 90 per cent of the products being sold here and consumed, they're bad," he said. "Some people wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee, some have a cigarette, some a shisha. It's personal preference." Mohammed al Jenaibe, a 49-year-old Emirati public relations officer, believes shisha does about as much damage as cigarettes. He said he smoked for about an hour a day, but if there were no health risks, he might indulge more often.

"I feel the effects on the health. I feel a pain sometimes here," he said, putting a hand on his chest. Because shisha is a social activity, it is difficult to tell people they should stop, according to Dr Abdul Rehman Shihabi, a Dubai general practitioner. He said that if people did not over- indulge, they were unlikely to suffer major problems. "It goes through the water, it's a little bit less nicotine or carbon monoxide," he said, adding that he did not believe one shisha pipe was as harmful as five cigarettes.

"It's not healthy at all. Like anything with nicotine it's dangerous for the lungs, for the body, but only for heavy smokers." dbardsley@thenational.ae