Dubai’s expatriate teenagers are increasingly turning to the use of ‘dokha’ — the tobacco smoked through a ‘midwakh’ pipe — to get their tobacco fix, a survey has revealed.

Dr Annie Crookes, head of psychology at Heriott-Watt University’s Dubai Campus, surveyed nearly 400 secondary school students anonymously across six English-speaking schools in Dubai’s private sector. The results showed that 23 per cent of the youth reported being regular tobacco users, a large majority of whom opted for ‘dokha’ rather than cigarettes. All youths surveyed were above 16, with an average age of 17.

The majority of students surveyed, nearly 73 per cent, were of European, British or other Western nationalities. The remaining 27 per cent were comprised of Middle Eastern, Subcontinent and East Asian students.

“It was an expatriate demographic because the government is already working hard to look into substance use among Emirati youth,” says Dr Crookes. “So I feel my role, if any, would be to look at the other half of society.”

Key findings of the survey stated the regular use of tobacco (in various forms) in males was found to be higher than in similar age groups in other countries and in previous World Health Organisation (WHO) surveys.

Despite the relative inexpensiveness of commercial brand cigarettes in the UAE, the use of ‘dokha’ was predominant amongst the youth versus other forms of tobacco smoking.

“The idea for this survey was that there is no information about what happens here among young expat population,” she says. “We know nothing about the chemistry of ‘dokha’ — we have no idea of its nicotine levels compared to cigarettes.”

The lack of information about the adverse effects of ‘dokha’ may be one of the reasons youths are ditching cigarettes for it, according to her.

“There are loads of campaigns about how bad cigarettes are and maybe the message has gotten through, but it has failed to transfer onto other forms of tobacco,” she says. “‘Dokha’ is an area we clearly need research on.”

“If it is true — that this tobacco leads to some sort of mental high — we need research to confirm it.”

What is dokha?

‘Dokha’, the Arabic word for dizziness, is a regional tobacco mix of leaves, bark and herbs. It is smoked in single bowl servings through a mini smoking pipe called a ‘midwakh’. ‘Dokha’ comes in many strengths, fruit flavours and names. The strengths range from ‘cold’ - the mildest - to ‘extra hot’ – the harshest. The ‘dokha’ variety providing the strongest ‘buzz’ is referred to as Laf Raas — the Arabic phrase for head spin. It is sold openly in the UAE, typically in small plastic pots costing upwards of Dh15, which can last approximately a fortnight.