Myth that smoking medwakh is safer than smoking cigarettes ‘needs to be dispelled’

Smoking dokha tobacco could be just as harmful, if not worse, than smoking cigarettes, experts have warned. They are asking for more research into the subject to determine the health risks associated with the practice.

Mohammed Al Hammadi, 24, from Al Gharbia, smokes dokha and cigarettes but says dokha has a faster hit. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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ABU DHABI // The myth that smoking medwakh is safer than smoking cigarettes needs to be urgently dispelled, health professionals say.

And they say this can only be achieved with more research into the health effects of dokha tobacco.

“We don’t have enough research on medwakh in the UAE,” said Dr Yasser Sadawey, specialist in internal medicine and medical director at Burjeel Medical Centre.

“I believe that increasing research about the results of this habit will bring a lot of new information and confirm the old beliefs about its bad effects.”

Medwakh is the pipe used to smoke dokha, a tobacco that is usually mixed with herbs and spices, and smoked in the UAE and Oman. Its name is Arabic for “dizziness”.

Among the misconceptions is that dokha is less harmful because it is more natural and does not contain additives, said Dr Sadawey.

But it is not completely pure. It includes ingredients for its aroma. “It carries the same risk as cigarette smoking,” Dr Sadawey said.

“It will lead to the same diseases and maybe even worse.”

Smoking cigarettes can lead to cancers and cardiovascular diseases, but pipe smoking carries more risk of developing mouth and lip ulcers or cancer, said Dr Sadawey.

The difference in odour is one common reason many people prefer medwakh to cigarettes.

“I think from the social point of view, when they smoke medwakh it does not leave the odour of smoking over the clothes and in the mouth,” he said. “It’s not sticky like cigarette [odour].”

Most young people who commit to smoking do so early, in their teenage years.

“Unfortunately, by the age of 40, they will start to have the effects of smoking chronic chest infections, chronic cough. Some of them will also have cancers.

“Most of them start smoking cigarettes and then turn to medwakh with the same misconception of it being less harmful.”

While the medwakh bowl is smaller than pipes used in other parts of the world, its comparatively high nicotine levels still make it hazardous to users, a 2011 study says.

The study surveyed more than 9,000 applicants to the Abu Dhabi pre-marital screening programme and found 24.7 per cent said they were smokers.

More than 11 per cent said they smoked cigarettes, while 5.9 per cent said they smoked medwakh and 4.8 per cent shisha pipes. About 2.5 per cent said they smoked a combination of the three.

UAE nationals had the highest prevalence for smoking medwakh, at 16.1 per cent, and were defined as those who smoked at least once a day or on some days, said the survey.

Among those aged between 20 and 29, the prevalence jumped to 17.3 per cent.

Women were found to be much less likely than men to smoke the pipe. Only 0.1 per cent reported that they used it, compared with 11.5 per cent of men.

“Health promotion efforts should target young male UAE nationals to raise awareness about the harmful health effects of medwakh smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption,” the study report reads.

Cigarettes and medwakh are both bad for health, but cigarettes are worse for clothing, said Mubarak Al Mazroui, 48, a dokha smoker from Abu Dhabi. “It’s the same.”

“Why do I smoke medwakh?” asked Mohammed Al Hammadi, 24, from Al Gharbia. “Because I feel it quicker than cigarettes.”

Medwakh can be a hassle to smoke because the pipe needs to be cleaned and the filter needs to be changed regularly, he said.

“All my friends smoke medwakh,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

But he does not think that it is any healthier than cigarettes. “In smoking, there is no health.”