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European Society of Cardiology

Clinical Articles, Lead Article

Gulf state heart disease linked to cultural habits

Deep-rooted cultural factors and the rapid improvement in socio-economic conditions are responsible for the high rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the Gulf states, according to sessions on the primary prevention of CVD at the recent Annual Conference of the Saudi Heart Association, which also featured a one-day collaborative programme with the European Society of Cardiology.

Despite a perception that the risks of the waterpipe – also know as the hookah or shisha – may be less than those of cigarettes, a recent report suggests that its “harmful effects are similar to those of cigarettes”, and that the waterpipe may offer “a bridge” to cigarette smoking.1 The greatest prevalence of use – with up to 34% reported – is currently among adolescents and women.

A recent study from the Gulf Registry of Acute Coronary Events (GRACE), the region’s largest, found that 38% of patients registered were cigarette smokers and 4.4% waterpipe smokers.2 The study, which included 6,701 consecutive acute coronary patients in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, found that the waterpipe smokers were older than the cigarette smokers and more likely to be female.

However, despite the relatively low rate of waterpipe smoking among the patients in this registry study, other studies report more widespread use throughout the region, and especially among the younger age groups. A study from 2004 found that 22% of men in two villages of Egypt reported current or past use of waterpipes, and the habit is increasingly evident even among student communities in the USA, Canada and Germany. The GRACE investigators said: “Although the prevalence of waterpipe smoking in the current registry was low (4.4%), with the current trend of popularity it is expected that physicians and specifically cardiologists across the globe can expect increasing number of their patients with Acute Coronary Syndromes to be waterpipe tobacco smokers.”

They attribute this rising popularity to the introduction of a sweet processed tobacco, the mistaken belief that any harmful effect is less than that of cigarettes, and a dearth of health warnings (as well as a dearth of data). Yet the investigators propose that waterpipe smoking may be associated with greater toxin exposure (because of longer episodes of use as well as more and larger “puffs”, with smoke inhalation as much as 100 times more than from a cigarette). They explain that a single waterpipe episode lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and may involve more than 100 inhalations, each approximately 500 ml in volume (with the smoke passing first through water). “Thus,” they write, “while smoking a single cigarette might produce a total of approximately 500–600 ml of smoke, a single waterpipe use episode might produce about 50,000 ml of smoke.”

“We’re sitting on a time bomb,” says Professor Hani Najm, Vice-President of the Saudi Heart Association. “We will see a lot of heart disease over the next 15 to 20 years. Already, services are saturated. We now have to direct our resources to the primary prevention of risk factors throughout the entire Middle East”.

The explanation for this trend, says Professor Najm, is not just rapid urbanisation and ubiquitous travel by car. There are, in addition, many social and cultural barriers to exercise, especially among women, who find it difficult to find the opportunities and encouragement to take organised exercise.

Professor Najm highlights the efforts of the Association (and many regional health ministries) to develop prevention programmes, and regrets that the smoking policies of many countries – including Saudi Arabia – are not fully enforced. “The basic messages still need to be delivered,” he says. “With such a high prevalence of risk factors in our populations, especially among the young, I still expect rates of cardiovascular disease to increase even further over the next 20 years.”

Details of the ESC’s programme can be found at http://www.escardio.org/congresses/global-activities/saudi-arabia/saudi-heart/Pages/welcome.aspx

Details of the SHA congress can be found at http://www.sha-conferences.com/

References

1. Maziak W. The global epidemic of waterpipe smoking. Addictive Behaviors 2011; 36: 1-5.

2. Al Suwaidi J, Zubaid M, El-Menyar AA, et al. Prevalence and outcome of cigarette and waterpipe smoking among patients with acute coronary syndrome in six Middle-Eastern countries. Eur J Cardiovasc Prevent Rehab 2011; DOI: 10.1177/1741826710393992

3. Maziak W, Ward KD, Soweid RAA, Eissenberg T. Tobacco smoking using a waterpipe: a re-emerging strain in a global epidemic. Tobacco Control 2004; 13: 327–333.

Published on: April 18, 2012

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