Hidden tobacco in ‘niche’ drugs sparks cancer awareness alert

Published on Monday 27 February 2012 10:26

A LARGE number of young people in West Yorkshire are ignorant of the health risks posed by “niche” tobacco products popular in south Asian communities, a report has warned.

The products, which include “shisha” smoking pipes and various pastes and powders containing tobacco, which are taken orally or nasally, are popular with Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Gujerati communities.

New research in Kirklees and Bradford has suggested that some are ignorant of the risks of mouth and other cancers – and others are not aware that the products contain tobacco.

Health professionals and trading standards officers have been working on a project aimed at increasing awareness and reducing the use of such products across West Yorkshire.

A West Yorkshire Trading Standards report warns that smokeless/chewing tobacco remain “extremely popular” with people from south Asian backgrounds – including children.

It adds: “Most communities are unaware of the risk to health caused by niche tobacco as the products rarely carry health warnings.

“As warning labels are more widely associated with cigarettes, this leads to the misconception and belief that other forms of tobacco are a healthier alternative.”

The report also warns that the smoking of shisha, or water pipe, has grown in popularity among young people and children.

“Parents may allow young children to participate as they think it is a safe alternative to cigarette smoking when in fact one full shisha session can contain the same amount of smoke as up to 100 cigarettes.”

The project organised workshops at schools, colleges and youth clubs across Bradford and Kirklees.

Health workers discovered widespread ignorance of the health risks involved.

Last year more than 2,500 people were involved in the health education project. Since then, more than 50 people have been given support to help them stop using tobacco products.

During a series of screening sessions, several people were found to have symptoms of mouth cancer.

Researchers said students questioned about tobacco products revealed some worrying gaps in their knowledge.

Only 70 per cent knew that waterpipe/shisha contained tobacco and only 39 per cent knew that tobacco could be found in paan, which is a mixture containing tobacco leaf.

About 65 per cent of young people were aware that chewing or smoking tobacco can increase the risk of mouth cancer.

Researchers found that almost 40 per cent of the people who took part in the project had used some form of tobacco.

The project’s work has been supported by Dr Jim McCaul, consultant facial surgeon at Bradford Hospitals NHS Trust, who said: “Use of smokeless tobacco products causes mouth and throat cancer. Reducing risk behaviour to prevent mouth cancer is a crucial part of our prevention strategy.

“It is only by our novel engagement with ethnic groups in our area that we can begin to establish relationships which can lead to behaviour change. Our recent success in engaging with Gujerati, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities during mouth cancer awareness week screened 55 patients and detected a high level of risk behaviour. Our new initiative with native language speakers has made very significant progress in this aim. We are already reviewing patients referred on from these events and seeing reduced risk activity.”

One of those tobacco users told the project: “I have been using some of these products for almost 40 years, as it is a big part of my culture, without knowing they are addictive and cancerous.

“I will try to stop and ensure that my children are not allowed to use these products.”

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