Study calls for action on smoking
A research team has warned that the issue of midwakh, a form of tobacco pipe smoking, needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the UAE.
The team, which has been examining smoking habits across the Emirates, warned that the tobacco is being sold to minors - packets don’t carry health warnings and it costs only one seventh of the price of cigarettes. The team also warned that people are turning to midwakh pipes at a younger age than they might take up cigarette smoking.
Their study is the largest of its kind in UAE - and possibly in the Arab world.
The doctors and researchers, from UAE University, Health Authority Abu Dhabi and the UK’s Oxford University, trawled through the medical records of 173,501 people screened for health insurance in the UAE and found that midwakh smoking is second only to cigarette smoking for tobacco users and it’s very cheap.
For Dhs11, you can buy as much loose tobacco (commonly known as dokha) as you would find in Dhs77 worth of cigarettes, the researchers found. Midwakh, a traditional Bedouin pipe, is now popular with both Emiratis and expats and may be spreading in popularity to other countries. Even more worrying, while the ban on selling cigarettes to minors is strictly enforced, it is not always enforced for midwakh tobacco, the authors said.
They also found that the average midwakh smoker is two years younger than the average smoker of other types of tobacco.
Mohammed Al Houqani, from the faculty of medicine at UAE University, said the team found that 18,814 people of the 170,000 in the study admitted to smoking tobacco regularly.
All the people 170,000 studied were Emiratis living in Abu Dhabi and were screened for the Weqaya insurance programme between April 2008 and June 2010.
The researchers found a huge gap in smoking rates between men and women, with 24.3 per cent of men admitting to smoking regularly, compared to just 0.8 per cent for women. However, the authors caution that these figures could well be underreported, especially for women, because of the social stigma of smoking.
“The use of midwakh and the relatively young age of onset of midwakh smokers is of particular concern as is the possibility of the habit spreading to other countries. Comprehensive tobacco control laws targeting the young and the use of midwakh are needed,” the report adds.
It also notes that there is no scientific research that compares the addictiveness and harm done by midwakh compared to cigarettes, but warns that “it is likely to be equally harmful and, as with any tobacco product, it will increase the risk of many chronic diseases, which are already increasing rapidly in the UAE and the region”.
It notes that older Emiratis have very good lung and cardiovascular health because smoking was not common until 40 years ago. However, with more expats coming into the country the use of tobacco grew, leading to health problems.
The authors also say that smoking levels are lower for Emiratis than for other Gulf states, but they add that cutting out midwakh smoking among youngsters must be a “priority”.
Dr Rajeshree Singhania, a neurodevelopmental paediatrician and founder of Dubai’s Singhania Children’s Clinic, said: “Stopping young people smoking depends on the relationship between parent and teenager. It can often be rebellion but how you deal with the rebellion is important.”
Parents leading by bad example is also a problem, she added. “If the parents smoke, there is a much greater chance the teenager will smoke, not just because its seen as acceptable, but because they may have been passive smoking for many years,” she said.