Dr. Wasim Maziak, professor and chair of the department of epidemiology at Florida International University (FIU) Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, is serving as the principal investigator for an international project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Fogarty International Center (FIC). Dr. Maziak received $1,754,281 to conduct a five-year study that will translate evidence and build capacity to support waterpipe (also known as “hookah”) control in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Dr. Maziak and his team at Stempel College are pioneers in exploring the epidemiology, toxicology, and addictive nature of waterpipe smoking. They are internationally known for examining the specific use patterns and features of waterpipes and how they differ from others methods of nicotine delivery (e.g., cigarettes).
“I feel fortunate to be able to continue our international collaborations to advance evidence-based solutions to the waterpipe epidemic — both internationally and in the U.S.,” said Dr. Maziak, whose team at the Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies has been on the forefront of characterizing the waterpipe epidemic and its harmful and addictive properties since 2002.
Specifically in the past decade, waterpipe has become the main use method for tobacco smoking among youth in the Eastern Mediterranean region; however, evidence-based interventions or solutions to this emerging epidemic continue to lag. This is due to two factors, according to Dr. Maziak: the mismatch of policy solutions derived from cigarettes to local tobacco use methods and the lack of understanding of local tobacco control context.
The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is an international treaty ratified by most countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, yet implementation of waterpipe specific and effective policies continues to lag behind.
As there are widespread misperceptions that waterpipes are less harmful and addictive than cigarettes, communication of the risks associated with waterpipe smoking through health warning labels seems a priority strategy to face this emerging epidemic. Accomplishing this requires an understanding of the waterpipe’s unique makeup, local policy environment and the forging of strong local and international partnerships.
Dr. Maziak’s team, in collaboration with researchers in Lebanon and Tunisia, is studying the structure of local health systems there to propose a plan to help the two countries, and perhaps others, in the implementation of effective health warning labels for the waterpipe.
“Researchers like Dr. Maziak bring extraordinary insights to the global discussion about tobacco control and prevention,” said Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College. “With decades of experience and funding, he’s poised to make a difference with discoveries and recommendations that have far-reaching influence.”
This work is funded by award number R01TW010654.