The waterpipe: time for action


Wasim Maziak, University of Memphis, Director, Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies, 633 Normal Street, Memphis, TN 38152, USA. E-mail:


The waterpipe, known in many cultures under different shapes and names (e.g. hookah, shisha, narghile), is a centuries-old tobacco use method that is witnessing a world-wide surge in popularity. This popularity is most noticeable among youths, and is surpassing cigarette smoking among this group in some societies. Many factors may have contributed to the recent waterpipe spread, including the introduction of sweetened/flavored waterpipe tobacco (known as Maassel), its reduced-harm perception, the thriving café culture, mass media and the internet. The passage of smoke through water on its way to the smoker underlies much of the common misperception that waterpipe use is less harmful than cigarettes. The health/addictive profile of waterpipe compared to cigarettes is largely unresearched and is likely to be influenced by the properties of smoke, duration and frequency of use, type of tobacco used, volume of smoke inhaled and the contribution of charcoal. However, the accumulation of evidence about the harmful and addictive potential of waterpipe use is outpacing the public health response to this health risk. A timely public health and policy action is needed in order to curb the emerging waterpipe smoking epidemic.