Do You Think Hubbly-Bubbly Is Better Than Cigs? Think Again!

RIYADH, 5 January 2006 — Though water pipes, or shishas, are widely viewed as a safer way to smoke, they may be as damaging as cigarettes to the veins, hearts, teeth and gums, as well as many other vital organs, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Periodontology.

The study, whose findings have been supported by local doctors, said that the carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar and heavy metals in the smoke pose often-ignored health threats, including cancer and cardiac problems.

In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, shishas (also known as hookahs) are being widely used by men and women for smoking tobacco or tobacco flavored with fruits, sugar syrup or light intoxicating materials. In the Kingdom, water-pipe sections or shisha lounges are increasingly popping up in all resorts and restaurants. An estimated 250 resorts and hotels, which are often frequented by Saudi teenagers, serve shisha in the capital city alone.

Referring to the health hazards, the study said that the trend of shisha smoking is growing because young people in the Kingdom consider smoking a water pipe fashionable. To see if water pipes are as tough on the teeth, mouth or heart as cigarettes are, Suzan Natto and her colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, studied 262 adults in Saudi Arabia. Overall, 31 percent smoked water pipes exclusively, while 19 percent smoked only cigarettes.

Another 20 percent used both smoking methods, and the rest 30 percent were nonsmokers. The researchers found that about 20 percent of all study participants had signs of gum diseases, which are marked by inflammation and redness in the gums in its earlier stages, and, later, destruction of the bones and soft tissue supporting the teeth, possibly leading to tooth loss.

“But, more than that, shisha smoking can also cause cardiac problems and mouth cancer,” said Dr. Waleed Ahmed Khoja, of the Riyadh Armed Forces Hospital. “Pipe smoking or shisha is as damaging as cigarettes”.

The water-pipe smoke contains the same toxins as cigarette smoke, revealed the study. It is important to note here that some past studies have also suggested that hookah smoking increases heart rate, raises blood pressure and impairs lung function.

According to the study, while only eight percent of non-smokers had gum disease, 30 percent of water pipe smokers and 24 percent of cigarette smokers were affected. When Natto and her colleagues weighed other factors, such as study participants’ ages, they found that water-pipe smokers were five times more likely than nonsmokers to show signs of gum and mouth diseases. They are also at risk from pulmonary disease and other types of malignancies.

Dr. Amjad Rana, CEO of Medilink Healthcare Ltd., said some people believe that shisha filters out the harmful substances. “But this is not the case,” he said, adding that shisha smokers, unlike cigarette smokers, don’t cough as much because of the water vapor in the smoke.

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