Smoking hookah which is popular in Middle East and North Africa with growing demand everywhere, can be more damaging than cigarettes, warn World Health experts.
"A single puff from a water pipe is nearly equal to the volume of smoke inhaled from an entire cigarette," said The Tobacco Atlas launched at the World Conference on Tobacco OR Health in Abu Dhabi. And World Health Organization tobacco expert Edouard Tursan d'Espaignet said "one session of shisha (water pipe) can be equal to smoking 20 to 30 cigarettes in one go, which can be very dangerous."
The water pipe, variously known as a hubbly-bubbly, hookah, shisha or nargileh, has become a major worry for anti-tobacco campaigners as its is popularized across university campuses, overlooked by regulators. In recent years, its use has spread to the United States, Europe and, to a lesser extent, South America.
The chairman of pathology and laboratory medicine at the American University of Beirut, Ghazi Zaatari, says aromatic flavorings known as maasal added to the tobacco offer younger smokers a "smoother and more tolerated" alternative to the taste of traditional tobacco. And the water pipe has an interesting design because it somewhat engages your five senses. "You're holding the hose, there's something you're looking at, there is the aroma, there is the sound of the bubbling and there is this kind of sensational thing with the social gathering."
In social gatherings that last for an average of an hour, the smoker can quickly get "hooked on it because of the nicotine. Moreover, the smoke from charcoal used to heat the tobacco contains toxins."
The WHO said harmful effects include impact on the "respiratory system, cardiovascular system, oral activity and teeth."
In addition to the dangers of lung cancer, data also suggest probable associations with oral, esophageal, gastric, and urinary bladder cancer, as well as chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, stroke as well as other illnesses.
Global tobacco companies are increasingly investing in the water pipe business, experts say, while little has been done to curb their use, despite a crackdown on cigarettes. According to The Tobacco Atlas, "water pipes fall into a less heavily or unregulated group of tobacco products" in most countries. "There has been a gap for a while and now hopefully, with this global effort, they (tobacco regulators) are coming back to emphasize the importance of including the water pipe in all these policies and regulations on tobacco," Zaatari said.
Brazil has taken measures to ban flavorings, while Turkey has extended warning labeling from cigarette packets to include the water pipe. And the ruler of the UAE emirate of Sharjah has banned the use of water pipes altogether, earning him an award this week from the WHO.