Background: The prevalence of waterpipe tobacco smoking (WTS) in the Middle East region and worldwide is increasing. There is evidence to indicate both short term and long term health effects of WTS, resulting in the issuance of an advisory note by the World Health Organization.
Methods: This research aimed at gaining an in-depth understanding of the factors contributing to the rise in WTS in Lebanon. Qualitative focus groups (25) and in-depth interviews (9) were conducted with adults in Lebanon in 2007. Participants were recruited to represent diversity in smoking status, gender, age groups and urban/rural residence. The interviews and focus groups were thematically analyzed, and recurrent themes noted and summarized.
Results: The main themes identified were availability, affordability, innovation, influence of media, lack of a policy framework, and the sensory characteristics evoked from WTS. Men and women, smokers and non-smokers, and younger and older participants differed in their emphases on the above themes. These themes, though specific to waterpipe, are similar to themes manipulated by the cigarette industry, and eventually controlled through tobacco control policies.
Conclusions: Understanding reasons behind the rise in waterpipe tobacco use is important if appropriate prevention, cessation, and policy interventions are to be formulated. Strict adherence to the FCTC is warranted, with careful and vigilant attention that all tobacco products are covered by laws in both high as well as middle to lower income countries.