Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hookah Smoking Alarms American Health Advocates

Since the hookah (shisha or water pipe) made its debut in North America a few decades ago among immigrant communities, it has continued to gain in popularity and now found its way to hundreds of college campuses all over the continent.

Most of the hookah tobacco used in the United States is imported from the UAE, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; as a way of catering to Western tastes, tobacco manufacturers are introducing flavors like kiwi, watermelon and blackberry. Handcrafted pipes made of glass and brass are produced in Syria and Egypt, although China is making less expensive pipes out of acrylic. Pipes cost between $50 and $180. In lounges and bars, the tobacco is sold in batches for as little as $5 or as much as $20. One batch can last a person an hour or longer.

Contrary to popular belief that hookah is less harmful than cigarettes, a 2005 study by World Health Organization has concluded that a typical hour-long hookah smoking session does as much harm as 100 cigarettes. This study puts the hookah tobacco merchants in the same category as Philip Morris, often described as a merchant of death. Philip Morris has been heavily promoting to achieve double digit growth in demand for is tobacco products in developing nations such as China, India and Pakistan.

The WHO study also found that the water in hookahs filters out less than 5 percent of the nicotine. Also, hookah smoke contains tar, heavy metals and other cancer-causing chemicals. An additional hazard: the tobacco in hookahs is heated with charcoal, leading to dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide, even for secondary smokers, according to a recent University of Florida study. No surprise, then, that several studies have linked hookah use to many of the same diseases associated with cigarette smoking, like lung, oral and bladder cancer, as well as clogged arteries, heart disease and adverse effects during pregnancy. And because hookahs are meant to be smoked communally — hoses attached to the pipe are passed from one smoker to the next — they have been linked with the spread of tuberculosis, herpes and other infections.

Many young Americans are attracted to the sweet, aromatic and fruity flavors of hookah smoke, which causes them to mistakenly believe it is less harmful than hot, acrid cigarette smoke, according to a report in the New York Times.

Hookah was reportedly invented by a physician, Hakim Abul Fath, in Emperor Akbar's 16th century court in India as a less harmful method of tobacco use. Growing up in South Asia, I saw mostly older people smoking hookah. And they, too, believed the myth that the water filters out much of the harmful components of the tobacco smoke in a hookah. In fact, my grandfather was an avid hookah smoker and lived a healthy life well into his nineties. So did one of my hookah-smoking uncles, while my father, a non-smoker, died at the age of only 69. The American Lung Association, however, is not persuaded by such anecdotal evidence. It is campaigning for hookah bar bans at colleges and in cities across the United States.

“Teens and young adults are initiating tobacco use through these hookahs with the mistaken perception that the products are somehow safer or less harmful than cigarettes,” said Paul G. Billings, a vice president of the American Lung Association. “Clearly that’s not the case.”

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Merchant of Death Eyes Pakistan Market

Health Risks Rise With Bunge in Pakistan

WHO Advisory on Water Pipe


Mohan said...

Smoking has also got some advantages, this is what the new studies suggest. It helps to ease the mental stress in patients with Psychophrenia. Also, it influence the dopamine system in the brain, thus reducing the chance of Parkinson disease.

Mayraj said...

It was used by Americans for drugs before. I gave a decorative one to a Professor once who gave me starnge look. I asked him why and he told me used to smoke pot!

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post story on section 144 calling it a "catch-all" law:

A gathering of young people in a hookah bar, an annual kite-flying festival heralding the arrival of spring, and an outbreak of deadly sectarian violence. These three scenarios share an unlikely nexus: They have all been declared subject to a catch-all law that allows Pakistani authorities to restore “public order.”

Headlines saying “Section 144 Imposed” turn up frequently in the local press, referencing the part of Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure that allows the government to act immediately to halt any activity that poses a threat to health, safety or public order.

Last week, Section 144 was imposed when sectarian violence broke out between majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims in Gilgit in the north of the country after an attacker lobbed a hand grenade and then opened fire on a group of protesters. Shia-Sunni tensions have been running high in the Gilgit-Baltistan region since February, when Sunni gunmen ambushed a Gilgit-bound bus, ordered 18 Shia passengers to get off and shot them dead by the side of the road.

But the law has also been used in less obvious circumstances. The Supreme Court cited Section 144 when it banned kite flying after multiple reported injuries and deaths caused by the razor-sharp metal strings favored by kite enthusiasts. Metal strings are coated with chemicals and then covered by shards of glass to get an edge in kite-flying competitions. But they also pose a serious risk of injury to spectators and motorists.

Beginning April 1 in Karachi, Section 144 is being imposed as part of a government crackdown on the smoking of hookah pipes, a trend that has become increasingly popular with young people in the region. Full color advertisements in local newspapers featuring photographs of young men and women blowing sinister clouds of deadly tobacco smoke warn that violators of the no-smoking order risk “six months vigorous imprisonment.” The ads urge citizens to call the listed telephone numbers immediately to inform authorities if they see hookahs being used in hotels or restaurants.

The section can even be invoked in efforts to limit political activities: A petitioner in a court case next week in Lahore is asking a judge to rule that a march by the country’s opposition party violated Section 144.

The regulation is a holdover from the days of colonial rule when the British implemented a version of the law in India to inhibit public gatherings among Indian inhabitants. The law has since found its way into the penal code of Pakistan and its reach has expanded to include not only public assembly but also other activities.

Pakistani international law expert Ahmar Bilal Soofi said Section 144 is correctly used when there is imminent danger or apprehension of civil unrest. “People have the right to protest and have peaceful assembly, but the moment the protest in no longer peaceful or there is damage to property, [the use of the law] could become reasonable.”

But the law can also be applied inappropriately, he added — as in the context of kite flying. The Supreme Court recently lifted the kite-flying ban, at least partially, to allow revelers to fly kites during the springtime festival of Basant — but only if they do not use the hazardous glass-coated twines.

Not all invocations of Section 144 conform to the constitution, according to Soofi.

“It makes sense to use it to restore a law and order situation. But I think it can also be used in ways it was not meant to be used,” he said. “Whether or not it is used appropriately is a question of fact"


Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan #tobacco #tax rise hits BAT cigarette biz. Sales drop 5.6% worldwide, down 2.5% excluding Pak https://www.ft.com/content/2915081a-ac8d-35e0-b4ca-cada589cda53 … via @FT

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British American Tobacco, which this week completed its merger with its US peer Reynolds, sold 5.6 per cent fewer cigarettes in the first half of this year mainly because of a tax rise in Pakistan that led to a big increase in illicit sales.

Reporting half-year results, BAT said volumes excluding Pakistan were down 2.6 per cent, a milder decline than in the industry as a whole. It said its market share in its main markets grew by 0.3 percentage points.

Revenues rose 15.7 per cent or 3.5 per cent at constant currencies to £7.7bn. Operating profits rose 16 per cent to £2.6bn.

Chairman Richard Burrows said “the combustible business continued to perform well, against the backdrop of a strong volume comparator”.