E-cigarettes used by one in five university students in UAE, study finds


Researchers detect much higher rates of vaping than in previous studies

Nearly a quarter of students in the UAE used an e-cigarette in the past month, a study has found.

Research carried out at three universities in the country recorded higher vaping rates than other recent studies in the Emirates and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Experts have given a warning that while e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they do pose a risk to health and could be a gateway to more hazardous tobacco smoking.

Students at one private and two public universities were polled on whether and when they had used e-cigarettes.

Researchers found 23 per cent said they had smoked e-cigarettes in the past month, while 37 per cent had used them in their lifetime.

The researchers, from Maudsley Health and Al Amal Psychiatric Hospital, both in Dubai, and Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, published their findings in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that contain a liquid and include nicotine, a battery and an atomiser, which produces vapour instead of cigarette smoke.

In the paper, the researchers highlighted a 2021 study, which found only 3.7 per cent of university students in the UAE were current e-cigarette smokers.

A 2020 study in Qatar put the figure at 14 per cent, while in Saudi Arabia, the latest research points out, scientists have found figures of 7.2 per cent (in 2020) and 10.6 per cent (in 2018).

Gender divide over smoking habits

The researchers behind the latest study found that students who used e-cigarettes were more likely to also smoke other forms of tobacco, such as traditional cigarettes, shisha or medwakh pipes.

Male students, who made up about a quarter of the study’s 240 participants, were about twice as likely as females to have used e-cigarettes in their lifetime. Men tended to perceive them as less harmful than females did.

“This is consistent with previous research about tobacco smoking among university students in the UAE, where males are more likely to consume tobacco,” the researchers wrote.

“In the GCC, this pattern has also been observed in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. This could be due to smoking being more socially acceptable for males in this region and that they could also be subject to peer influence.”

Prof Kamran Siddiqi, professor in public health at the University of York in the UK, who researches smoking internationally, said the latest study, based on relatively small numbers and focused specifically on university students, may not necessarily indicate wider smoking rates among young people in the country.

More broadly, he said it was difficult to determine whether e-cigarettes were a “gateway” to the use of combustible cigarettes.

E-cigarettes not necessarily a tobacco alternative

While research has, he said, found that people who “vape” were more likely to go on to smoke traditional cigarettes, this did not necessarily indicate that one caused the other.

Another possible explanation is what researchers call common liability, when people who take up vaping are already more inclined to smoke cigarettes.

“In Britain people are more and more thinking along the lines of common liability, because despite young people experimenting with e-cigarettes, we haven’t seen a huge increase in smoking,” said Prof Siddiqi, who was not connected to the latest study.

Read full article here.

Daniel Bardsley & Nick Webster – National News – 2022-07-17.

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