Shisha Mania

A Health Risk or a Harmless Pastime?
By Emdad Rahman
OnIslam Correspondent - UK

The research suggested that the water-pipes have three additional lethal risks over the risks of smoking cigarettes
ASH research points out that Shisha smoking is 200 times worse than a cigarette and their research states that three leading experts from across the Middle East warned prior to last years smoking ban that excluding “Shisha bars” would worsen the grave inequalities in health that already affect ethnic minorities.

The research suggested that the water-pipes have three additional lethal risks over the risks of smoking cigarettes:

• Flavoured tobacco is smoked over coals and fumes from these fuels add new toxins to the already dangerous smoke.

• Shisha smokers inhale up to 200 times more smoke in a single Shisha session that they would from a cigarette.

• Café owners have stress the social importance of their product, but researchers say it is exactly that social aspect that results in high levels of highly dangerous second-hand smoke.


Far from discriminating against ethnic minorities, any exemption for indoor Shisha smoking would only worsen health inequalities, said experts. Following the recent publication by the American Lung Association “An emerging Deadly Trend: Waterpipe Tobacco Use” Mostafa Mohamed, Professor of Community Medicine in Cairo said, "Heat sources that are commonly used in Shisha pipes to burn the tobacco are likely to increase the health risks because when they burn they produce their own toxins. Shisha smokers and those around them are put at greater risk.”

Professor Mohamed is among the authors of a World Health Organisation report on Shisha smoking published in 2005. He was joined in his statement by co- contributors from Syria and the Lebanon. Dr Wasim Maziak, Associate Professor at the University of Memphis, USA, and Director of the Syrian Center of Tobacco Studies expects to publish new research very soon. The new study stresses that it is the very social nature of Shisha smoking that makes the problem worse.

“Our latest study makes clear that that clean air policies should include the water-pipe, as it can be responsible for the build up of toxic levels of indoor air pollutants similar to what is seen in cigarettes. The social nature of this tobacco use method makes such regulations more needed, but perhaps more difficult to implement as well. The public health community in the meantime must wake up to the hazardous nature of this emerging tobacco use method both to users and those exposed” said Arnott.

Dr Alan Shidaheh of the American University in Beirut suggested that the problem was only recently being addressed by western scientists, and that had lead to dangerous misconceptions. "One of the enduring legacies of colonialism is that many problems of public health which are more relevant to the global South have received scant scientific attention due to a lack of resources available there.

Knowledge of the potentially detrimental health consequences of Shisha smoke, first or second hand, is a good example. The historical lack of evidence has unfortunately allowed many Shisha users to believe that the practice was safe, or at least safer than other forms of tobacco use. We have recently learned otherwise.” Dr Shidaheh went on to stress that it was not only the Shisha smoker who is at risk, and warned that the tobacco industry will try to undermine the science. Balderdas h! Back at 'Canopy' Amir, 18 say’s that:  “Every study finds that Shisha smoke contains chemicals that lead to heart disease, cancer, and addiction in cigarette smokers. If that’s the case then I’m the exception” His friend Rezwan, also 18 in a jovial mood said: “… it’s all rubbish and unless there’s a full smoking ban I ain’t cutting out,” he snorts. 

The repercussions for operating Shisha bars, not meeting the legal requirements for operation are severe. Under the new UK guidelines businesses failing to display ‘no smoking’ signs could receive a fixed penalty notice of £200 or a fine of up to £1,000

Businesses that allow smoking in smoke-free premises could face fines of up to £2,500 and if people smoke in a no-smoking place they could face a fine of up to £200 or a fixed penalty notice of £50.


American Lung Association - An Emerging Deadly Trend: Waterpipe Tobacco Use February 2007.

ASH Factsheet on Waterpipes and ASH.

WHO - Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking: Health Effects, Research Needs and Recommended Actions by Regulators. WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation. 2005.

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Emdad Rahman is the UK Correspondent for OnIslam.net

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