Assessing the effects of waterpipe use on healthy young adults

By Abeer Daraghmeh

According to the World Health Organization, one waterpipe (argileh/shisha) session (about 45 minutes) is the equivalent of smoking 60 cigarettes and may even reach 200 cigarettes. However not much is known about the early onset effects of regular waterpipe smoking. Given that young populations are driving the spread of this popular trend, it became important to assess the early damage associated with regular waterpipe use in the youth.

A recent study conducted by the King Hussein Cancer Center’s (KHCC) Cancer Control Office has found that regular waterpipe smoking is associated with a reporting of substantially more respiratory symptoms in young adults. The two-year pilot study measured the effect of habitual long-term waterpipe use on pulmonary symptoms, pulmonary function, and cardiopulmonary exercise capacity in young men. The findings are drawn from data on 138 young healthy males between the ages of 18 and 26, where 69 waterpipe smokers were compared to 69 non-smokers.

Findings of the study have shown that young adults who smoke waterpipe regularly have a greater burden of respiratory symptoms than adults their age who do not smoke. Although these symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, and sputum production) may not seem so severe, all are signs of a distressed respiratory system which is alarming to see at in such an age group. The study also showed that waterpipe smokers have impaired lung function readings that trend lower than those of non-smokers, and also have a reduced exercise capacity which may be caused by earlier muscle fatigue. In addition, waterpipe smokers were found to be on average 6 kg heavier than non-smokers, and their body-mass index (BMI) already at the overweight mark.

Moreover this study builds on research previously conducted by the KHCC’s Cancer Control Office on the acute effects of waterpipe tobacco smoking, which has shown that even a single 45-minute session of argileh smoking has adverse effects on lung function and exercise capacity.