ABU DHABI: Even during extreme hot weather in the country, business at shisha outlets in the capital never runs dry.
Haris Abdul Kader from the Brazilian Trading Establishment, Abu Dhabi, said that the shisha or hookah is very much “in vogue” in the UAE and is a popular cultural practice. “Because of its social aspects, hookah or shisha will continue to gain loyal smokers because it is also traditional.”
Yet Dr Eric J. Dierks, clinical professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Oregon Health and Science University, USA, pointed out, “there is a myth that smoking through a shisha pipe is safer than smoking cigarettes but this is almost certainly not the case. Several recent studies have indicated that shisha smokers actually inhale more of the cooled smoke than would a cigarette smoker, thereby increasing their exposure to carcinogens within the smoke.”
“The main causes of oral cancer have classically been related to smoking tobacco products and the Middle East has a higher rate of tobacco consumption than many other countries and this includes the use of shisha or hookah,” added the specialist, who will be speaking at the upcoming second oral and maxillofacial surgery congress to be held at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Hotel from May 1 to 5.
“Despite this, in terms of death rate from oral cancer, the Middle East is nowhere near the top. Iraq has the highest death rate from oral cancer but is only 31st in world ranking. This is followed by Yemen at 35th, Saudi Arabia at 59th and Iran at 131st. The UAE is 134th, Oman 138th, Lebanon 147th, Kuwait 187th, Qatar 190th and Syria 191st,” he noted.
Speaking to residents in the capital, it is evident that shisha smoking has increasingly become a part of the lives of teenagers. Abdul Kader noted that in the past few years, it has also become increasingly popular with Europeans and tourists and among this group grape flavour is highly preferred. “And among the Arabic clients, ‘mint’ is the popular choice,’ he added.
In Abu Dhabi other flavours that are popular include apple, mint, strawberry, rose, cherry, sweet melon and super cool grape.
One Arab teenager, Rahman 18, said “I know it’s bad, but I just love to hang out with friends and smoke my favourite mint flavour. I prefer smoking shisha because of it’s different flavours, the way it tastes and (the fact that it) smells better than cigarettes.”
Meanwhile an Indian expatriate, 21, said, “I smoke shisha for its taste. It’s relaxing and pleasant, takes away my distress from being away from home. My Arab friends introduced me to it.”
An European teenager, Josh, said that in his homeland in Finland, he will not be able to enjoy shisha. So while during his stay in Abu Dhabi for the next year or two, he hopes to enjoy the flavoured smoking. His favourite is the super cool grape.
Yet health experts warn that an hour-long session with a hookah can actually expose a user to the equivalent of 100 or more cigarettes.
According to Dr Pentti Grohn, professor in Oncology and Radiotherapy, Al Noor Hospital, Abu Dhabi, around one to two patients suffering from lung cancer caused by smoking visit his clinic daily.
He warned that half an hour of shisha is equal to inhaling 200 cigarettes. Dr Grohn pointed out that every cigarette shortens one’s life by seven minutes, reducing life expectancy by 7-10 years when compared to a non-smoker.
Meanwhile, Dr Dierks observed, “The early diagnosis of oral cancer is extremely important because not only is the prognosis significantly better for early stage cancer, but the treatment involved is often less extensive.”
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer reported globally with an annual incidence of over 300,000 cases. Roughly two thirds of these arise in developing countries.
The death rate of oral cancer is notably lower in the Middle East than in India or the U.S. In the Middle East, two deaths per 100,000 are caused by oral cancer whereas 10 per 100,000 occur in the U.S. and 20 per 100,000 in India.
Regardless of nationality, roughly half of long-term smokers die from the effects of tobacco smoking, be it from oral cancer, lung cancer or cardiovascular disease.