Smoking or Qat chewing [Archives:2005/901/Health]

December 8 2005

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Yemeni people are known to have below average health compared with many other countries around the world. This has been indicated in more than one report by the World Health Organsiation and by special reports of the Yemeni Ministry of Health. One of the reasons could be that Yemenis have two dangerous addictions: smoking and Qat chewing. These two habits have grown tremendously in Yemen throughout the last 10 years for reasons still undecided. While there is a lot of attention given to the Qat issue in Yemen, relatively less is being given to smoking as a bad health and social habit. Health research indicates that both issues are hazardous to health Here are some revealing facts.

Qat ands its effect:

Not much research has been done into the side effects of Qat. But studies indicate that it certainly causes weight loss and insomnia. It may also be the cause of mouth cancer and, although many claim it is an excellent aphrodisiac, in the long term it could probably also result in impotence.

In the USA and most of Europe it is classified as a drug and is illegal. In Britain and Holland however it is not and used regularly by Africans and Yemenis.

Studies in Yemen showed that the incidence of heart attacks among Qat chewers is 49% higher than in non-chewers. Regular users had bad gum disease, a tendency to lose teeth, and a higher incidence of esophageal and gastric cancers. The plant has also been linked to a reduction in sperm quality and impotency.

Death cases occurring because of Qat chewing are usually as a result of masticating Qat leaves treated with highly poisonous chemical substances. In those situations, it is mostly in connection with the Topaz chemical product, which is usually used by farmers to prompt the growth of Qat plants. Yemeni markets are crammed with tens of internationally prohibited as well as expired chemical products mostly used by Qat farmers.

There is also an increased sensitivity to sensory stimulation; excessive Qat use may cause hyperesthesia (over excited). Hyperactivity may be observed, and the associated behavioral syndrome can be described as hypothemania; a manifestation of irresponsible fearlessness has also been reported.

Qat leaves contain chemicals that are mildly stimulating. They contain three alcoholides: cathine, cathinine, and cathidine, as well as sugars, tannins, and vitamin C in great amounts. The World Heath Organization (WHO) considers Qat to have amphetamine-like properties, and categorizes it as a separate drug group in which it is the sole member. In its analysis of Qat, the WHO contends that chronic Qat-chewing can cause hypertension in young adults.

Consumption of Qat leads to many oral effects including oral mucosal lesions, dryness of the mouth, discoloration of teeth, poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease. While the majority of Qat chewers think that the health risk that Qat has is highly exaggerated, they don't argue the point that it is unhealthy. Yet on the other hand the issue is given much more importance then it deserves. Perhaps because it is not a major concern for the world community.

Smoking and its effects:

The research, published by The Lancet medical journal, concludes that over 5 million people died from smoking worldwide in 2004 ) 2.61 million in developing countries and 2.39 million in rich nations. Newly developing countries seem to be the most at risk of smoking as forecasts show that 70 percent of the 10 million people predicted to die yearly by the year 2025 are from developing countries.

In the late nineties, Professor Judith Mackay, the Hong Kong based director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, said that there were 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, but she estimated that by 2025 this would grow to 1.64 billion owing to longer life spans, bigger populations, and more women smokers.

About 87% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, and is one of the most difficult cancers to treat. The overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers. Smokers are far more likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than non-smokers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking has caused 12 million deaths in the United States since the first Surgeon General's Report was released in 1964.

Nearly 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States are related to smoking. Cigarettes kill more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined.

Based on data collected from 1995 to 1999, the CDC estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking

Although 70% of smokers want to quit and 35% attempt to quit each year, less than 5% succeed. This in return shows a desire to quit by the people, but in the same time losing hope that they could ever succeed in quitting smoking before its too late.

The comparison:

Comparing both Qat and smoking one would definitely realize that both are a health risk. While smoking being many times a higher life threatening habit than Qat. In spite of this fact, health attention in Yemen focuses more on fighting Qat and not Smoking. One would argue that Qat is of particular interest in Yemen because it is much common than other countries around the world while smoking is spread overall. Over one million people around the world are smokers, not to mention second hand smokers could easily number a billion as well. Countries around the world put huge amounts of taxes on cigarettes sales, trying to discourage the addiction of smoking, comparing to Yemen where the highest quality of a cigarettes package could be easily bought for less then a dollar.