SHARJAH // Sultan, 16, has been smoking his medwakh pipe every day for two years, and has no trouble buying the dokha needed for the rush he craves.
“I smoke medwakh. I like to smoke it because it usually takes one puff to make me light-headed,” said Sultan, a public school pupil. “I’ve been smoking for more than two years and all of my friends smoke it too.
“We buy medwakh pipes and dokha from any tobacco shop. No one asks for IDs.”
Sultan is one of a growing number of youngsters who are sold dokha from shops in Dubai and Sharjah.
Teenagers are turning to the traditional form of Arabic tobacco – sold in small bundles – as laws governing the sale of cigarettes and shisha have been tightened, with shops facing hefty fines if they sell to people under 18. Selling medwakh and dokha to minors is also illegal.
But Younes, 14, said he regularly visited shops in both emirates and was sold dokha for Dh25-Dh40, and pipes for Dh50, without hesitation.
Shopkeepers say dokha is popular among youngsters because it is cheap and lasts longer than cigarettes.
“A pack of cigarettes lasts one day. But dokha can last for two weeks,” said a shopkeeper in Jamal Abdul Nasser Street, Sharjah.
He said he had no qualms about selling to teenagers because his dokha was of a high quality and “100 per cent pure Arabic tobacco”.
Despite government efforts to help people to kick the habit, the number of smokers shows no sign of decreasing.
Almost 30 per cent of Emiratis in their 30s smoke with medwakh, figures from a health-screening programme last year in Abu Dhabi found.
Thabet Al Torasi, director general of Sharjah Municipal Council, said teenager smokers often took up the habit because of peer pressure.
“This is a big problem,” Mr Al Torasi said. “One of the main reasons why smoking dokha is thriving among teenagers is that some people plant dokha indoors and sell it illicitly, besides shopkeepers who sell medwakh pipes to adolescents illegally.”
To stop youngsters starting the habit, all groceries in residential areas and near schools in Sharjah were banned from selling cigarettes in 2013.
Nationwide, smoking is banned in cars in the presence of children under 12, in houses of worship, educational institutes and health or sports centres; and the sale of sweets resembling tobacco products is prohibited.
But Mr Al Torasi said enforcement could not simply begin and end with the authorities.
“Such action requires collaborative effort,” he said. “It starts with parents, who should teach their children about the harmful effects of smoking and keep an eye on them to monitor their activities.
“I suggest stricter regulations and punishments against those who sell tobacco to teenagers and teens who buy it.”
Alaa Al Halli, a teacher at Al Noor Private School in Sharjah, said at least one in five teenagers smoked a medwakh pipe.
“Smoking dokha gained popularity among teens for many reasons, including its cheap price and lack of knowledge about its harmful effects,” Ms Al Halli said.
“Teenagers want to try everything. They believe that smoking medwakh is less harmful than other tobacco products, which is wrong.”
Dr Mohammed Al Dasouqi, who heads an anti-smoking clinic in Dubai, said one of the main reasons smoking dokha was thriving among teens was because many of them saw their parents doing it.
He said the amount of nicotine in dokha is much higher than in cigarettes.
“It’s even called dokha because it makes whoever smokes it feel dizzy,” Dr Al Dasouqi said.
Dr Babu Shersad of First Medical Centre said smoking a mewakh pipe led to higher doses of nicotine, which does long-term damage.
“Smoking affects the lungs and affects cardiovascular health because it thickens blood vessels, causing high blood pressure, which can affect the heart,” Dr Shersad