KT For Good: Shisha isn't safer than cigarettes, actually it's more dangerous
The last part of our #SmokeFreeUAE series speaks to medical experts and some shisha smokers on the various hazards of the habit and how to overcome addiction.
A pastime that is spread in countries throughout the Middle East, shisha smoking is a cultural phenomenon that is a few centuries old. The UAE is home to several hundred shisha cafes, where men and women of various nationalities enjoy an evening of smoking with tea, conversation and Arabic snacks.
However, the World Health Organisation has said that shisha use is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes in a 200-puff session. Does that make it a dangerous public health threat?
Shisha increases the risk of diabetes and obesity
Dr Amr R Hassan, consultant haematologist and medical oncologist, VPS Burjeel Medical City, said: "A single shisha session could have the same negative effects as smoking more than a packet of cigarettes. It is also found that smoking shisha 'significantly increases' a person's risk of diabetes and obesity."
He added: "One hour of shisha smoking is equal to smoking 40-400 cigarettes and it exposes the smoker to 100-200 times more smoke inhaled from one cigarette."
Several people assume that shisha smoking is safer than regular cigarettes, which is not the case.
Dr Hassan said: "Hookah pens are a sub-genre of hookahs and are like an e-cigarette but are called vape pens. All these products are as harmful and addictive as smoking cigarettes."
How does shisha smoking impact smokers?
Dr Samaher Tannira, specialist Internal medicine at the Emirates Hospital Jumeirah, said:
"There is a misconception that shisha is not as bad for you as cigarettes, because the tobacco is flavoured and passes through water first. But tobacco smoke contains harmful components, such as carbon monoxide, tar, heavy metals like arsenic and lead."
She said: "A regular shisha smoker has a similar risk and health problems that a cigarette smoker faces, which include immediate increase in heart rate, blood pressure and carbon monoxide level."
Dr Tannira added: "Other long-term health risks are heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung, mouth, throat and stomach cancer."
She said continued use of shisha also causes premature skin ageing since smoking tobacco can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the skin, and this can increase the risk of infection.
What about passive shisha smoking?
Amir* (name withheld at request) is a regular shisha smoker. He visits a shisha café in Karama once in two-three days. He said: "Sometimes, I buy a shisha and, on some days, I just accompany my friends to the café. I personally smoke only once or twice a week."
However, according to Dr Hassan, passive smoking of shisha is as dangerous as first-hand smoking. He explained: "Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and heart diseases in adults who have never smoked. Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 per cent."
He added: "Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Over time, secondhand smoke also can cause heart disease and lung cancer."
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