Waterpipe tobacco smoking is a centuries old practice, influenced by cultural tradition in Eastern Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. It historically has been an activity enjoyed primarily by men. In the past 2 decades, however, this method of tobacco smoking has increased in popularity in other parts of the world, including the USA. Growing interest in this form of smoking can be traced, in part, to the advent of a flavored tobacco, called maassel. The combination of flavoring agents and the paraphernalia itself used in the smoking process, along with its mystic appeal, novelty, affordability, and the social atmosphere in which smoking often occurs, has made waterpipe smoking attractive to women as well as men, cigarette smokers and nonsmokers alike, and particular groups, including persons of college age and younger adolescents. Although waterpipe smoking is perceived by its new generation of users to be less addictive and hazardous to health than cigarette smoking, researchers draw diametrically opposed conclusions. Research demonstrates that numerous toxic agents, including carcinogens, heavy metals, other particulate matter, and high levels of nicotine, are efficiently delivered through waterpipes. Moreover, sidestream smoke exposes others in the vicinity of waterpipe smokers to the risk of respiratory diseases and other conditions. In addition, persons sharing waterpipe mouthpieces may share infectious agents as well. Waterpipe tobacco smoking has been declared a public health problem by the World Health Organization and other authorities. Recognition of the deleterious effects of waterpipe smoking has led to initial attempts to expand regulatory control. Because waterpipe tobacco is not directly burned in the smoking process, many existing control measures do not apply. Public health authorities should monitor waterpipe tobacco use carefully. Finally, pediatricians and other healthcare providers should discourage experimentation and continued use among their adolescent patients.
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