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E-cigarettes leads to five times increased COVID-19 risk, What shisha users should know

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A recent finding from a study by Stanford University, reveals a fivefold increase in the risk of coronavirus infection in young adults who ‘vape’ compared to those who do not. Does a similar risk exist in the Nigerian environment?

Vaping simply refers to the use of an electronic cigarette, where the vapor of a heated liquid solution is inhaled. Often, these liquids are an aromatic compound which also contains toxic heavy metals or other harmful substances. In many countries, vaping and other alternative smoking methods are common, especially among teenagers and younger adults. While there are no studies to determine the extent of vaping in Nigeria, similar alternative smoking is gaining ground.

E-cigarette photo

Before the restrictions on movement and engagement in social activities, it was common to see individuals engage in non-traditional tobacco usage. Chief of these is shisha! Once a Mediterranean phenomenon, shisha use is gaining popularity in Nigeria. Not only is shisha available in many gardens and clubs, but even shisha cafes are also becoming infamous.

Now shisha also known as the water pipe, unlike vaping, is used to smoke tobacco. Often times, however, other substances can be laced with tobacco or introduced in the pipe to be inhaled. The dangers of tobacco, as well as other illegal and harmful drugs, are well documented. Tobacco is a primary risk factor for lung cancer as well as contributing to increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, tobacco causes other lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema which reduce lung function. At a time when COVID-19 is raging on and its deterioration of lung function, it is about time to change behaviors that damage the lung.

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But why the highlight on shisha use, when cigarette smoking has always been the main topic of smoking prevention and cessation? In the 2019 study done by Lasebikan and colleagues in Ibadan, many users of shisha perceived it to be safer than smoking cigarettes. This is further from the truth! The report, shisha smoke delivers almost twice the amount of nicotine and more than six times the carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke. More so, it is equally addictive.

No beneficial effects of shisha use have been studied. But for the sake of a balanced view, the only benefit of vaping highlighted by Havard Health might be a potential to assist current cigarette smokers to quit. However, this is yet to be proven.

What is certain is in the context of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, additional risks accompany the culture of sharing the same pipe, and from a long time it takes on average to smoke in a shisha session. Overall, according to the World Health Organization, all smokers have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness and death.

Lockdowns are being slowly lifted across Nigeria, with expectations to return to full economic activities soon. Yet the pandemic lingers on. It is vital for all Nigerians, old, and young to recognize hidden risks associated with behaviors, in order to mitigate the acquisition and further community transmission of COVID-19. For all the mentioned lung, heart, vascular, as well as the risk of contracting COVID-19, the time to review and quit shisha is now.

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Joan Alaboson Joshua is a public health physician and medical doctor with experience in primary care, disease prevention, and health program management in Nigeria. She works to contribute to improved health and wellness.

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