Social norms and attitudes linked to waterpipe use in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

Soc Sci Med. 2013 Dec;98:125-34. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.09.007. Epub 2013 Sep 18.


Waterpipe tobacco smoking (WTS) is on the rise globally, particularly among vulnerable populations such as youth and women. Increasing knowledge about toxicant yield from waterpipe tobacco and deleterious health effects points to the potential for a health epidemic. WTS is often viewed as a safe alternative to cigarette smoking. Though the original objective of the research was to explore the social norms and attitudes that lead to waterpipe being a more acceptable form of tobacco smoking for women than cigarettes in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, the use of a qualitative research methodology resulted in rich data that helped to understand more generally the phenomenon of waterpipe smoking. Both focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews were used. Participants were recruited to represent genders, various age groups, socioeconomic status, waterpipe smoking status, and residents of urban and rural areas. A total of 81 FGDs and 38 in-depth interviews were conducted in 2007. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the transcripts. A total of ten themes emerged: socio-cultural norms, gender differences, motivation to smoke, sensory characteristics of waterpipe, metaphors, consumerism, indicators of dependence, comparison between cigarettes and waterpipe, health effect of smoking, and intervention. Results indicated that WTS has socio-cultural dynamics associated with it that are far more pronounced than health considerations. An increased socio-cultural acceptability, the perceived reduced harm and the advent of the fruity Moassel tobacco are among the many reasons for WTS acceptability. Findings point to the need for a unified strategy to address this health issue at all levels of the ecological framework and have important implications for future policy and practice.

Keywords: Addiction; Egypt; Lebanon; Palestine; Smoking; Social norms; Syria; Waterpipe.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mediterranean Region / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult