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Researcher discusses health risks of e-cigarettes and shisha

Dr. Mahfoud said quitting all nicotine products is the only right decision to make.
Dr. Mahfoud said quitting all nicotine products is the only right decision to make.

The health risks associated with using e-cigarettes and smoking shisha were discussed at the latest installment of WCM-Qs Ask the Expert series.

Dr. Ziyad Mahfoud, associate professor of healthcare policy and research at WCM-Q, said that studies into the health risks posed by using electronic cigarettes, which are illegal in Qatar, are now beginning to be published.

“E-cigarettes are quite new and until recently there had not been much research into them, but now there have been few good quality studies and we are gaining some understanding of the health risks they carry,” he said.

“Firstly, the production of the devices and the liquid that is vaporized and inhaled is poorly regulated. A user cannot be sure of what chemicals they are actually inhaling, and it is never recommended to introduce unknown, potentially harmful substances into the body.

Some people erroneously believe that  shisha is less harmful than cigarettes.“Secondly, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is highly addictive, and research indicates that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking normal cigarettes, which we know can have catastrophic negative effects on health, including increased risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and many forms of cancer. Portraying e-cigarettes as safe is therefore extremely irresponsible and potentially dangerous.”

The free and interactive public event, which is part of WCM-Q’s Sahtak Awalan – Your Health First campaign, provided the audience with opportunities to Ask the Expert by putting their questions directly to Dr. Mahfoud.

Many audience members wished to know whether e-cigarettes were effective aids to quitting smoking. Dr. Mahfoud said that a few studies have shown that smoking e-cigarettes can reduce the normal consumption of regular cigarettes among smokers, but on the other hand marketing them as a safe alternative has led to some ex-smokers picking up the habit again. 

He added: “Until there are more regulations on the manufacturing of e-cigarettes and more studies about its health hazards, nicotine gum, nicotine patches, medications and cognitive behavioral therapy provide safer ways to reduce nicotine dependency and give up smoking.”

Dr. Mahfoud’s presentation was entitled ‘Emerging trends in tobacco use: shisha and e-cigarettes’.

He said: “A common misperception of shisha is that because the tobacco is fruit-flavored it is somehow healthier than normal tobacco. This is wrong: it is just normal tobacco that is mixed with molasses and other additives. It is harmful to health. Smoking shisha has been linked to respiratory, cardiovascular and periodontal diseases and many forms of cancer. It is also harmful to pregnant women and their fetuses. It is still addictive.

“It is also completely untrue that the water in the shisha pipe filters out toxins. Scientific studies have proven that shisha smoke contains similar levels of tar and other hazardous chemicals as cigarette smoke does, and in some cases much higher levels.”

Dr. Mahfoud added: “If you are considering using e-cigarettes or shisha because you think they are less harmful than cigarettes, the bad news is that this is not recommended.

“However, the good news is that you have at least taken the important step of accepting that smoking is harmful. The best thing you can do with this knowledge is to get help from your doctor to quit smoking decisively and without compromise. Several cessation clinics that are using best available techniques and with great success rates are available in Doha.

“Quitting is the right choice for you first and for the loved ones around you,” concluded Dr. Mahfoud.