Researchers at WCM-Q have conducted a comprehensive study to determine the cancer risk posed by smoking from a water-pipe.While the risks of smoking cigarettes are well known, the cancer risk associated with smoking from a water-pipe - also known as shisha, hookah and ‘hubble-bubble’ - remain poorly understood.
Dr Ravinder Mamtani, Associate Dean for Global and Public Health at WCM-Q, said the need for such a study had become urgent in recent years owing to the surge in popularity of shisha, especially among young people and women.
He said: “There are many studies examining the risks of cigarette smoking but we must understand that smoking from a water-pipe is significantly different because the smoker generally inhales far more smoke, smokes for longer, and there are different concentrations of toxins in water-pipe smoke than in cigarette smoke.
“Furthermore, there is a very dangerous and frankly wrong perception that water-pipe smoking is safe because the water somehow filters out the dangerous toxins in the smoke. I cannot emphasize enough that this is not true. The water only cools the smoke, it does not filter out the toxins.”
Dr Sohaila Cheema, Director of Global and Public Health at WCM-Q, said: “Water-pipe smoking is a very social act, and in the Middle East it is more socially acceptable for women than smoking cigarettes. This means that patterns of use are quite different from cigarette smoking so it is vital that we study water-pipe use separately to understand the risks more clearly.”
The meta-analysis of the 28 studies revealed data that points to a strong association between water-pipe smoking and cancers of the head and neck, esophagus and lung. The study, entitled ‘Cancer risk in water-pipe smokers: a meta-analysis’ has now been published in the International Journal of Public Health.
Dr Cheema added: “Our analysis of the existing studies points to a clear association between water-pipe smoking and several forms of cancer, and people need to be aware of this so that they can make informed choices about whether they smoke or not. We also determined that the number of high-quality studies into the effects of water-pipe smoking is very low, so there is a great need for more investigation in this area, especially as shisha is so popular nowadays.”
Dr Mamtani said: “Governments around the world have taken steps to reduce cigarette smoking in their populations through measures such as public health campaigns, tax policy, creating smoke-free areas and passing laws about what can be displayed on packaging. Until now, water-pipe smoking has managed to escape many of these measures.
“It is time for more studies about water-pipe smoking, more public awareness of the risks, and we can also explore the opportunities for public policy on this issue to protect public health.”
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