UAE smokers: Call for aggressive steps to stub out habit as heart disease soars among Emirati men

A UAE University study found 42 per cent use cigarettes, medwakh or shisha

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 4, 2017:    A man smokes dokha from a medwakh pipe in the neighbourhood near the intersection of Delma and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed streets in Abu Dhabi on October 4, 2017. On October 1st the government introduced an excise tax on tobacco products and sugar-high drinks, with some prices doubling. Dokha has yet to be added to the list of taxed items though. Christopher Pike / The National

Reporter: Anna Zacharias
Section: News
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A medical researcher has called for greater efforts to cut smoking and promote healthy lifestyles to reverse the “epidemic” of cardiovascular disease among Emiratis.

Dr Saif Jaber Al Shamsi, of UAE University, made the comments after releasing a study that found smoking was a significant cause of the condition in men.

The research, released in BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, suggested there should be "aggressive" efforts to cut smoking rates, specifically among male UAE nationals.

It is one of the most detailed surveys to date of CVD causes in Emiratis, tracking almost 1,000 men and women over an average of almost nine years.

As many as 42 per cent of Emirati men are smokers, with large numbers smoking dokha with a medwakh pipe, which is even more harmful than using cigarettes.

Figures remain stubbornly high in spite of the 100 per cent tax on tobacco and public health campaigns.

The research also indicated that high blood pressure, diabetes and poor kidney function were causing both men and women from the UAE to have heart attacks and strokes.

Previous research has indicated that as many as 36 per cent of all deaths in the UAE are caused by cardiovascular disease, compared with 23.5 per cent in the United States.

Dr Al Shamsi, the study’s first author, said the findings “highlight the need for preventative efforts to encourage a heart-healthy lifestyle in order to reverse the epidemic of CVD”.

Dr Saif Al Shamsi said heart disease has become an epidemic for Emiratis. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Dr Saif Al Shamsi said heart disease has become an epidemic for Emiratis. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

“The increasing prevalence of CVD risk factors in the UAE is causing the high incidence of CVD,” said Dr Al Shamsi, who is part of UAEU’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“As CVD is the leading cause of death in the UAE, programmes promoting cardiovascular health need to be given a high priority.”

The research also suggests that health education messages should vary by sex, because while smoking is a more important risk factor for men, high cholesterol levels are a greater threat for women.

Participants in the study did not have CVD at the start, but had at least one characteristic thought to make the condition more likely. Looking at their medical records over time helped to identify what the key risk factors were.

“The high [cholesterol levels], especially among women, and smoking among men, are modifiable risk factors that should be managed aggressively,” the paper said.

The study was also written by Dr Dybesh Regmi and Dr Romona Govender, both of UAEU’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Dr Al Shamsi, an assistant professor at UAE University, said patients with poorly controlled blood pressure and diabetes, and poor kidney function, faced a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, a condition that can cause pain in the legs during exercise.

“Our study found that smoking is a strong predictor of heart attacks, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, particularly in Emirati men,” he said.

“Physicians should encourage non-smokers not to start smoking, while smokers should be strongly encouraged to quit smoking by providing effective smoking-cessation programmes.”

He said the introduction of a sales tax on tobacco two years ago was encouraging smokers to kick the habit.

A study released last year based on blood tests, rather than people’s reports of whether or not they smoked, also found that 42 per cent of Emirati men smoked, compared to nine per cent of women.

Among women, a high ratio of total cholesterol to “good” cholesterol indicates, said Dr Al Shamsi, poorly controlled dyslipidemia, a condition linked to CVD that involves large amounts of lipids – or fats – in the blood.

“More attention should be given to screening and health education to improve the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and control of dyslipidemia,” Dr Al Shamsi said.

The researchers are now trying to determine how many deaths could be prevented among Emiratis by better controlling their diabetes.

Dr Yasir Parviz, a consultant interventional cardiologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, who was not involved in the study, said the UAE had rising rates of “all the traditional risk factors for heart attacks”.

“The risk factors like diabetes and obesity are on the rise in the UAE. There are larger numbers of patients with hypertension, which leads to stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease,” he said.

“All these conditions are causes of the higher rate of heart attacks in the UAE. The patients suffering from heart attacks are at least 10 years younger in comparison to western countries.”

He advised people to control their blood pressure, keep in check levels of cholesterol and triglycerides – another type of fat – maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Limiting alcohol intake, avoiding stress, managing diabetes and getting enough sleep are also important.