Dubai: Shisha smokers do not acknowledge themselves as smokers, according to a countrywide survey that pegs the number of shisha smokers at 30 per cent in the age group of 22-44.
The findings, which come from a study titled Chronic Respiratory Symptoms in Adults, have set alarm bells ringing, with doctors pointing out that Shisha smoking is more dangerous than cigarette smoking due to higher levels of carbon monoxide (CO), putting smokers at a higher risk of undiagnosed symptoms associated with respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease.
Dr Bassam Mahboub, consultant respiratory physician at Rashid Hospital, Dubai, authored the report in conjunction with a research team led by Dr Sulaiman Al Hammadi, associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at UAE University, Al Ain.
Dr Mahboub told Gulf News: “Most shisha smokers do not screen themselves as smokers, but anyone who smokes shisha three or more times a week is a smoker by definition.”
The study, which is the first of its kind in the Middle East, also suggests that most respondents are male with females not admitting that they smoke shisha or any other form of tobacco.
Dr Mahboub said he hopes the findings will raise awareness against shisha smoking and help users realise that they are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than cigarette smokers.
His findings were supported by Dr Rajesh Raipancholia, consultant cardiologist at Heart First Medical Centre, Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC).
“The charcoal used to heat tobacco in the shisha increases the health risk by producing high levels of carbon monoxide and carcinogens [agents that can cause cancer],” Dr Raipancholia told Gulf News. “Shisha smoke contains numerous toxic substances known to cause clogged arteries, leading to heart attacks and respiratory disorders.”
Dr Raipancholia also issued a warning to those who view shisha smoking more favourably than cigarette smoking. “It is a false assumption that the smoke that passes through water in the shisha isn’t harmful,” he said. “Further, the flavoured tobacco makes it appealing to youth, many of whom may not otherwise smoke tobacco.”
It is this social aspect of shisha smoking that fuels the habit, according to Dr Rajeev Lochan, a specialist interventional cardiologist at Saudi German Hospital - Dubai and International Modern Hospital.
He said, “Smoking is taboo during this month, yet people think it is okay to smoke shisha for more than an hour each session. Tobacco packaging also displays incorrect information on nicotine content.”
Dr Moayad Hassan Flayih, specialist cardiologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, added, “Patients tend not to consider shisha smoking dangerous, and that they aren’t at risk. This risk is higher in patients with conditions like hypertension, obesity and diabetes.”