Smoking the hookah, nargilah or shisha pipe is a truly fun and social way to connect in the Middle East. It’s an oriental fantasy for newcomers and even for women in private circles who want to wind down and let loose. But one session can be like smoking 600 cigarettes!
I know an old grandma from Yemen who smokes her own hookah pipe every Friday night. She must be around 95. Perhaps the infrequency in which she smokes is the key, because researchers from Lebanon all the way to America and back over the Arab Gulf are screaming about the dangers of shisha. It’s even more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, Iran researchers say.
According to The National some of the latest research reveals that the inhaled smoke from a one-hour waterpipe session contains as much tar as up to 600 cigarettes, depending on the brand, and as much carbon monoxide as about 150 cigarettes.
About a quarter of all deaths in the United Arab Emirates are directly linked to smoking-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to government figures there.
While it seems innocuous enough — it’s because the hookah smoke smells like yummy apples, peaches, or apricots — that we get fooled. Also the social aspects of going out at night to smoke in a cafe make it appealing, especially in Arabian Muslim communities where alcohol consumption is prohibited or frowned upon.
Let’s look at a new study, probably the first ever major scientific paper in an international journal, the British Journal of Cancer. They published a study that nargileh users should read. It was done on hookah pipe and nass chewers in India.
They write: “Although cigarette smoking is an established risk factor for oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), there is little information about the association between other smoking and smokeless tobacco products, including hookah and nass (a kind of tobacco chewing in India), and ESCC risk. We conducted a case–control study in Kashmir Valley, India, where hookah smoking, nass chewing, and ESCC are common, to investigate the association of hookah smoking, nass use, and several other habits with ESCC.
“This study shows that hookah and nass use are associated with ESCC risk. As prevalence of hookah use seems to be increasing among young people worldwide, these results may have relevance not only for the regions in which hookah use has been a traditional habit, but also for other regions, including western countries.”
So what are governments to do? Go the way of shisha prohibition, and ban it altogether? The infographic below shows how banning dangerous substances, like alcohol, actually leads to an increase in use. They use prohibition in America as an example. Maybe time for danger warnings on the box of hookah tobacco?
Image above is of Jabba the Hutt, from Star Wars smoking a hookah pipe