Whether it’s better or worse than cigarettes is debatable. Nevertheless, the hookah, shisha, or nargileh has become a rather trendy social activity in different parts of the world. What is a shisha? How does it work? And how harmful is it?
With its variety of flavors and higher social acceptability than cigarettes, smoking shisha has been dominating the coffee shop scene.
What is Shisha? *
The word “shisha” commonly refers to a glass-bottomed water pipe in which fruit-flavored tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal. Other resources claim it refers to the flavored tobacco only. For now, we’ll stick with the former definition because it’s more widespread.
History of the Shisha *
The origins of the shisha are often disputed. Most people say it originated in India, while others say Persia (Iran) or Turkey. In India, it was made out of coconut shells, hence the Sanskrit word nārikela, and the Persian word “shishe” means glass. Regardless of where people really started it, the shisha or hookah has been depicted throughout various historical epochs in several civilizations’ art. Today, most of the world’s water pipes are manufactured in Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
A website dedicated to information about shisha tells us about the variety of names it has carried over the centuries. “‘Narghile’ is the name most commonly used in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Greece, though the initial “n” is often dropped in Arabic. “Shisha” is more commonly seen in Egypt. In Iran it is called ghalyoun, and in Pakistan it is referred to as huqqa.”
Although it is typically associated with the Middle East, smoking shisha has traveled to Europe and North America. When people migrate, they often bring along their customs and habits, including how they spend their free time. Smoking shisha is popular in Arabic or Turkish coffee shops in their host countries. More and more Westerners are picking it up, as it’s becoming trendier.
How Does Shisha work? *
According to QuitShisha.com, a hookah consists of a base, pipe, bowl and hose or a mouthpiece. The tobacco is placed in the bowl, which is at the top of the pipe. The bowl is covered with foil, and charcoal is placed on top. The foil is punctured using a pin to slowly heat the tobacco. When smoked using the hose, smooth, scented vapor is filtered through the base containing water. When the tobacco smoke passes through the water chamber, it is inhaled deeply and slowly. The fruit-flavored tobacco often makes it an enjoyable experience to hookah enthusiasts, the Guardian reports.
Shisha Flavors *
The water pipe uses tobacco that was sweetened with fruit or molasses, making the smoke more aromatic than regular cigarettes, says the British Heart Foundation. Popular flavors include apple, plum, coconut, mango, mint and strawberry. There are always new, unconventional flavors being added to the market, such as rose or vanilla. The molasses or the fruity syrup makes the tobacco damp. When the charcoal is burnt, the tobacco is heated and thus smoke is created. The smoker uses the hose and inhales the smoke through the mouthpiece.
Is Shisha Safer than Cigarettes? *
Now that’s a difficult question. Though shisha has been around for centuries, there hasn’t been enough scientific data that proves exactly how much it affects the smoker. However, there is a growing body of evidence that points out how it could be just as bad.
Research by The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the volume of smoke inhaled over a 60-minute shisha session could be the equivalent of smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes. On average, a smoker inhales half a liter of smoke per cigarette, while a shisha smoker can inhale from a sixth of a liter to a whole liter of smoke per inhale. On the other hand, some research contradicts the WHO’s findings. According to the Guardian, chemists from Saudi Arabia found only 142 chemicals in shisha smoke, in comparison to around 5,000 identified in cigarette smoke. Another medical team from Pakistan has found shisha smoke to be far less carcinogenic than cigarette smoke.
Does that mean shisha has no nicotine?
The answer is no. Most people are unaware of the health risks that come with the water pipe. Although the tobacco is flavored and passes through water first, the nicotine is still there. Whether it’s respiratory problems, heart disease or cancer, hookah smokers are still at risk to the same health issues cigarette smokers face. It could be just as addictive as cigarettes.
Moreover, shisha tobacco commonly has regular cigarette tobacco. This means that it includes nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. These can reduce your body’s ability to carry oxygen through your blood. Some smokers think that it’s less harmful because the nicotine is “filtered” through the water, but unfortunately this is incorrect. In reality, only some of the nicotine is absorbed by the water. If anything, experts from the British Tobacco Control Collaborating Center have found that a single shisha smoking session can result in four times more carbon monoxide levels than the amount produced by one cigarette!
More health risks
Healthxchange.com reports that there are so many health issues associated with smoking shisha. It is associated with lung, mouth, stomach and oesophagus cancer. In addition, it remains one of the main causes of severe health conditions such as reduced fertility. Even worse, for those who share a shisha pipe, you are more likely to be exposed to infections, such as herpes or tuberculosis – the water pipe could actually be a breeding swamp for many bacteria.
Herbal Shisha *
What is commonly referred to as “herbal” shisha often makes people assume that it’s healthy. Normally, it still contains some tobacco. Being fruity or more herbal does not mean that it’s safer!
However, there is an increasing number of online tobacco stores advertising tobacco-free shisha. While it’s not as bad as regular shisha, experts find that you are still at risk. How come? The answer is that, by placing charcoal on top of the foil to burn the flavored tobacco, you’re still exposing yourself to the toxins and carbon monoxide resulting from burning the coal.
In short, while fruit-flavored water pipes are gaining popularity throughout the world, it still carries most of the health risks and addiction issues associated with lighting up a cigarette. If you’ve been considering it as a relaxing pass-time activity, you might want to reconsider.