A rising number of youngsters across the United Arab Emirates and wider Middle East are smoking cigarettes or becoming hooked on ‘tobacco gateway’ products such as e-cigarettes and vapes, experts said.
Doctors across the Emirates are warning of the harmful nature of tobacco products as World Health Organization renews its call for greater protection for young people against taking up smoking and e-cigarettes on World No Tobacco Day which is marked every year on May 31.
An ongoing WHO campaign aims to provide a counter-marketing message to give young people the facts about tobacco and e-cigarettes.
Dr Amr Hassan, a consultant hematologist and medical oncologist at Burjeel Specialty Hospital, Sharjah, in the UAE, told Al Arabiya English that while worldwide consumption of tobacco is on the decline due to global anti-smoking campaigns, the same cannot be said for the UAE and wider Middle East.
“Tobacco and cigarettes use in the world has been globally reduced primarily because certain countries like the USA has been working hard in reducing the use of tobacco and tobacco products as much as possible,” he said. “But unfortunately, in certain parts of the world like the Middle East and the UAE, the use of tobacco products has been on the rise, particularly among young adults and teenagers.”
He said this is particularly true for as e-cigarettes and vaping products, which he said is often considered a gateway to smoking cigarettes – a theory backed by numerous studies worldwide.
“Tobacco products like hookah or shisha use, electronic cigarettes use, and vaping have been on the steep slope upward with a significant rise among young adults and teenagers,” said the doctor.
He said teens were more likely to try due to the belief that vaping reduces the harm caused by smoking traditional tobacco. However vaping and e-cigarettes carry numerous harmful side-effects.
“Tremendous efforts have been implemented by health organizations around the world and different countries to attempt to decrease the rise in using these tobacco products and protect the population of the world from all the harms associated with tobacco use.”
“The concern is that tobacco-like products like vaping and hookah/shisha carry more negative health ramifications even more than cigarette use by far. It carries more risk for lung tissue damage and a higher risk for developing lung malignancies and other malignancies associated with tobacco use.”
He said more effort is needed across the region to tackle this steep rise in the usage of tobacco products.
“These might include awareness programs, teaching webinars about the harms of tobacco and the tobacco-like products, robust marketing campaigns to highlight the harms of tobacco use, and programs to raise awareness about not only health care issues related to tobacco use but the economic and financial burden associated with tobacco use.”
Dr Fouad Al Rahal, a specialist in emergency medicine at Bareen International Hospital in MBZ City, agreed.
“Many are aware of the harmful effects of tobacco and smoking,” he said. “It is the leading cause for many diseases like cancer, heart and lung diseases and diabetes.”
“It also weakens your immune system, leaving you susceptible to many other immune diseases.
“Unfortunately, many teenagers continue to smoke cigarettes and shisha which are dangerous and harmful. This can be attributed to peer pressure, lack of awareness on the dangers of smoking, among others. Students and families must be made aware through social media about the dangerous effects of smoking and how we can curb this dangerous habit.”
Doctors have also warned that studies have shown smokers are more likely to suffer severe complications from COVID-19.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic looked at more than 7,000 people with COVID-19 and the results showed that people who smoke have a higher risk of hospitalization and death from the virus.
Heavy smokers, categorized as people who smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for more than 30 years, had the highest risk. This group was nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to be hospitalized, and the risk of death was nearly twice as likely compared to people who never smoked.
“We saw that the more an individual smokes, the more likely that person is going to be hospitalized when he, or she, gets infected with COVID,” said Dr Joe Zein, a respiratory specialist who led the research.
The World Health Organization has also launched a year-long campaign to get 100 million people tobacco-free as it revealed millions of smokers now want to kick the habit amid health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO’s “Commit to Quit” campaign aims to help people stop smoking through creating “communities of quitters,” a statement from the organization said.
The WHO says smokers have a higher risk of contracting coronavirus because they are constantly putting their hands to their lips. And then, if they have coronavirus, they run a greater risk of their case being severe because their lung function is damaged.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said smokers have up to a 50 per cent higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19.
“So quitting is best thing smokers can do to lower their risk from this coronavirus, as well as the risk of developing cancers, heart disease and respiratory illnesses.”
“We urge all countries to play their part by joining the WHO campaign and creating tobacco-free environments that give people the information, support and tools they need to quit, and quit for good.”