Smoking is currently on the rise in the UAE and the Middle East. The World Conference on Tobacco revealed that the growing popularity of sheesha is a leading factor causing an increase in the number of smokers.
Prevalence of tobacco use including smoking cigarettes, cigars, water pipe (sheesha) and even Medwakh is high in the region. The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) conducted a survey in 2011 to assess the risk of smoking in the country. The results revealed that 19.2% of men and 3.5% of women smoked cigarettes. 1 As per the WHO, 6 million people die every year because of tobacco usage, which accounts to 1 person in every six seconds.2
People around the world, including smokers, know that smoking harms their health and reduces their lifespan. A cigarette packet comes with the warning ‘Smoking Kills’, however smoking still prevails and is a growing endemic in the region.
Smoking is a major risk factor and the prime cause for the development of chronic diseases like cancer, pulmonary disorders, hypertension and cardiovascular conditions. Smoking is widespread and is the most preventable cause of leading health conditions today. The holy month of Ramadan is a great opportunity to adopt new and healthy lifestyle practices, like quitting smoking.
Being unable to smoke during the fasting hours is a golden chance for smokers to stub cigarettes forever given the fact that the fasting hours are rather long. If it is possible for smokers for stop smoking during the fasting hours which accounts for 14 hours daily, it is most definitely possible to quit smoking for good.
Smoking shisha is a popular traditional practice in the UAE and gets more frequent during Ramadan, given its popularity in Iftar tents. There are various misconceptions about sheesha smoking in the UAE and is considered rather casual. However, people fail to realise that sitting for an hour and smoking sheesha is much more harmful than smoking cigarettes, it puts the life of the smoker and those around at risk. Exposure to sheesha smoke for long periods can cause nausea, dizziness, and even neurological impairment.
However, smokers may experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, anger, difficulty in concentrating etc. when they stay away from cigarette smoking for hours. During Ramadan it is also common for smokers to chain smoke after breaking their fast, they inhale a lot of smoke over a very short period which is much more harmful than regular smoking and can have serious health implications.
Apart from the physical withdrawal symptoms that may last for a few days, the psychological aspect of the urge to smoke may last longer. Relapses may also occur if an individual is not cautious enough to quit smoking forever. Being in an environment with smokers or eating food that is associated with the habit of smoking, rebuilds the urge to smoke.
There are various mechanisms to adopt to help quit smoking. Nicotine gums and nicotine patches are the most commonly and conveniently available products to help reduce or quit smoking. Preexisting factors like a skin allergy or infection may cause a person to be unable to use nicotine patches that help reduce withdrawal symptoms. Long hours of fasting leads to drop in the nicotine levels in the blood and makes it much easier for smokers to quit. Nicotine replacement therapy is a medically approved technique to intake nicotine by means other than tobacco. People also resort to overindulging in food once they quit smoking which results in them gaining excess weight. This can be avoided by supplementing unhealthy food with healthier options like carrots, cucumber and more fibre. Simple practices like beginning a meal with a soup can help feel fuller and will help avoid carbohydrate-rich food. Above all the will to quit smoking is important to withdraw from the addiction.
Every year 31st May is recognised as World No Tobacco Day in order to encourage smokers who smoke or chew tobacco to quit the practice, given the various health concerns it causes. This year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day is Tobacco – a threat to development. It is gravely important and necessary to reiterate to people about the multi-faceted harmful effects of tobacco intake. Smoking tobacco in any form damages an individual’s health. Ramadan is an opportunity and challenge for smokers to break free from their tobacco addiction. Quitting may not be easy but is essential to protect your health and the life of those around you.
Dr. Mustafa Saif
Specialist Internal Medicine & HOD of Emergency Department
Aster Hospital Mankhool
To know more about Dr. Mustafa Saif