The Middle East is synonymous with good food and over-zealous smokers. The poorer the town or village and the more you will see chain smoking in younger populations. You see it in the teeth. We know smoking is a vice that is not good to start.
But what if it’s too late for you? You started and you can’t stop? We know that pretty much any vice except watching kitten videos on the Internet isn’t going to be good for you. I have friends in Tel Aviv that smoke one cigarette a day –– at the end of the day with a glass of wine –– and have done so for years without leaping to 2 or 3 or half a pack. I think that is a sensible vice. No doubt there are ways to enjoy a vice without it getting out of control.
Middle Eastern vices are not the same that you find in America or Europe. Americans and Canadians love cannabis now, and everywhere in Canada, and in more than half of the US States, you will have no problem with this vice –- finding what to smoke, vape or eat in CBD oils, THC vape pens, whatever your passion. It is even being given out as medicine to help epilepsy, anxiety, pain from cancer.
We know Europeans, especially the french smoke too many cigarettes too, and Americans are busy making a good old healthy THC-less CBD tincture while out foraging for plants and living the #vanlife. But would you know that Sweden has its own vice called snus? It’s a smokeless tobacco, made as dry snuff which started in the 18th century in Sweden. Snus is illegal in all of Europe, but you can use it and buy it in Sweden. There is even a white snus variety that doesn’t stain teeth, and those who turn to the addictive substance say that’s a way to wean themselves off of cigarettes without getting vape e-cigarette lungs. Now with coronavirus or COVID-19 raging, we all want to protect our lungs.
Some local varieties of snus can be found in the US and are now an alternative to smoking, vaping, e-smoking, chewing, dipping, dissolvable and snuff tobacco. The American-made snus may not have the same production standards or ingredients as Swedish snus, and typically uses a significant amount of sugar in its production.
One of the most popular Middle East vices are hookah or shisha pipe smoking (nargila in Israel), which are those big Arabian-styled smoking pipes that look like they are from Aladdin’s cave. They get stuffed with a fruit flavored tobacco which is just as, even maybe more dangerous than regular cigarettes if you read some of our past articles. Don’t be fooled by the sweet smelling aroma.
Ghat, khat or gat is another vice that started in Yemen, but if you look around the markets around the Middle East you will find ghat leaves for sale – even in Israel. They give a moderate to mild high, and the most addictive part of ghat might be behavioural as it might be the only activity some people in Yemen want to do. It’s been creating some environmental problems in Yemen too.
It is estimated that people in Yemen eat as much as 500 grams of the stuff each day, and seem to be content to enjoy just sitting around and being mildly intoxicated by its effects, which many say are a substitute for the favorite vice of the west –– alcohol –– (officially banned in Muslim Yemen), tobacco, and certain mild narcotics like hashish.
A lesser known vice found in the Middle East is naswār or nas. It is a moist, powdered tobacco snuff used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan. Stuff if into the floor of your mouth or the inside of your cheek for 20 minutes and feel the same high effect from snus or dipping tobacco. Naswar was introduced into Western Europe by Ramon Pane, a Spanish monk after Columbus sailed the Americas from 1493-1496. Years later in 1561, Jean Nicot, a French ambassador in Lisbon, Portugal, sent naswar to Catherine de’ Medici to treat her son’s ongoing migraine headaches.
Vices, including coffee, all seem to start from a place where they help us all feel a little bit better. Whether they calm depression after a breakup (I started smoking after a really sad breakup years ago), or take the edge off a headache or a rough time at work, or not having work. It’s all about moderation, my dear, my mother used to tell me. Although I think she also called cannabis devil’s weed. So take even Mom’s advice with a grain or salt.