(HN, May 31, 2011) -- On World No Tobacco Day the World Health Organization (WHO) once again warns smokers and others of the dangers of smoking. While the dangerous habit is declining it is still the leading preventable cause of death.
This year, WHO says more than 5 million people will die from a tobacco-related heart attack, stroke, cancer, lung ailment or other disease. That does not include the more than 600,000 people – more than a quarter of them children – who will die from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Now with use of the so-called Hookah, or water-pipe (also known as "shisha" and "narghile"), proliferating globally - including in the United States - WHO is taking a tough stand on the exotic habit - saying it is no less safe than ordinary smoking.
That the practice is seen to be safe is an "unsubstantiated belief" and reinforced by misleading marketing, WHO says. In an advisory note, the Geneva-based organization says that the label of a popular water-pipe tobacco brand sold in South-West Asia and North America claims 0.5% nicotine and zero percent tar.
The New York Times reports today that many US campuses, where Hookah smoking is becoming extremely popular among college students, are banning the practice all together because of health concerns. Several municipalities are following suit. The habit is also popular among young people in Brazil and European countries.
Hookah pipes and accessories are now easily available online and there is no lack of on-line forums celebrating the practice, such as the Hookah Forum.
Hookah smoking is especially popular in US cities with large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East. The aromatic smoke, filtered through a water bowl, seems to lull users into thinking that the health effects are minimal.
But WHO says that, because the inhaled air passes over not just the tobacco but heated charcoal as well, that users are inhaling very harmful charcoal combustion products.
"Contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke that emerges from a water-pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other disease," WHO says. It adds that because the tobacco products contain nicotine it can cause addiction.
Alarmingly, WHO calculates that because a typical Hookah session can last up to more than one hour and include as many as 200 puffs, the water-pipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 cigarettes or more."
WHO says that in South-West Asia and North Africa, it is not uncommon for children to smoke with their parents.
Globally, the highest rates of water-pipe smoking are in North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean region and South-East Asia, WHO says. Most street cafes in Cairo offer water-pipes, alongside cups of strong coffee, and the practice often replaces alcohol in bars and cafes during the holy month of Ramadan in such cities as Amman, Jordan.
The annual death toll from the global epidemic of tobacco use could rise to 8 million by 2030. Having killed 100 million people during the 20th century, tobacco use could kill 1 billion during the 21st century, WHO said.
- HUMNEWS staff