Shisha the biggest smoking threat to health, Abu Dhabi study shows

The New York University Abu Dhabi Public Health Research Centre research found that using shisha use can pollute the whole house and even those in other rooms are not safe.

A researcher in the study wants a ‘conversation’ about shisha and health. Satish Kumar / The National
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ABU DHABI // Shisha users who smoke at home are putting those who live with them at a much higher risk of disease than cigarette smokers, a new study has found.

The New York University Abu Dhabi Public Health Research Centre research discovered that shisha can pollute an entire house and those in rooms where smoking is not taking place are not safe.

Dr Scott Sherman, the principal investigator at the centre and co-author of the study, said: “So, sending your children to play in the other room while you smoke is not a safe alternative. This is one of the first studies to show it’s a big deal in ways that we didn’t necessarily expect.

“If people want to smoke at home then they have that choice, so it’s really a question of education and making them realise what they’re getting themselves and their families into.”

The study, Effects of Hookah Smoking on Indoor Air Quality in Homes, studied 33 houses in UAE. In 11 homes, only shisha was smoked, in 12 only cigarettes were smoked, and in 10 no one smoked.

All the pollutants assessed in the study were found to be higher in homes weher shisha was smoked.

Carbon monoxide levels in rooms where shisha was used were found to be five times higher than in rooms where cigarettes were smoked, while carbon monoxide levels in rooms next to where shisha was smoked were nearly four times higher compared to rooms next to where cigarettes were smoked.

An excess of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream can cause severe damage to vital organs, and toxic chemicals from second-hand smoke can cause cancer, respiratory problems, and heart disease.

Dr Trilok Chand, a specialist pulmonologist at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said one of the reasons shisha smoke is more harmful is because “shisha smoking sessions last at least an hour or a few hours and this long time is more dangerous.

“I have seen children who have asthma and when I asked their history they told me their parents smoke cigarettes and shisha at home. The idea that sending your children to the next room while you’re smoking is safe is not correct. The tar and carbon monoxide remains suspended in the air even in the other rooms.”

The doctor called for increased awareness while restricting smoking areas with an aim to limiting children to exposure.

Exposure to shisha smoke can cause headache, dizziness, nausea and chronic and severe exposure can lead to coronary heart disease or permanent neurological impairment, said Dr Chand.

Lead researcher on the study, Dr Michael Weitzman, professor of paediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, said he hoped the research would “open up a conversation that will motivate the public to behave differently or to create regulations that could save many lives and improve the quality of life for countless people around the world”.

Hana Al Khatib, an American-Jordanian resident of Abu Dhabi, said she has seen parents smoke shisha in front of their children at many occasions at “home or outside in coffee shops or restaurants”.

“I believe that parents do this because they lack the knowledge and information about passive smoking, said Ms Al Khatib, a legal consultant.

“I once saw the daughter of one of my family members putting the shisha in her mouth while it’s off pretending that she is smoking and teaching her cousin to do so.”

She believed children should be banned from any public place where shisha is used.

“Since we cannot control the parents’ habits at home we should educate them through ads or lectures,” she said.

“Another recommendation is to have strict regulations when parents are caught smoking shisha in front of their children,” she said.

UAE law prohibits smoking in cars if the child is under 12.

Last year, The National reported that parents were taking their children to shisha cafes and smoking around them.

The study was also co-authored by Dr Sherman and Dr Afzal Hussein Yusufali, a consultant cardiologist at Dubai Hospital.