Smoking shisha; is the WHO right?

I have decided to write an article because I had once been asked to smoke shisha, being insisted that there were no health implications involved and shisha was essentially the perks of smoking without the drawbacks, such as the continuity of use being able to possibly cause lung cancer! My decision to write this article was also perhaps encouraged by the growing market of shisha, which to has seen roughly a 210% rise in the number of cafes offering in since the smoking ban was implemented in 1 July 2007, as reported by the Independent. Moreover, there were 179 shisha bars in 2007 but there were 556 in 2012. So I now will begin writing a little bit of what I know to do with this subject.

“An oriental tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube that draws the smoke through water contained in a bowl” describes ‘hubble-bubble’, ‘hookah’, ‘waterpipe smoking’ and any other alias the infamous shisha tends to spread under. First discovered by Abul-Fath Gilani according to popular belief, the upcoming craze originated from the humble, and likewise, booming country that used to be Persia; India – though this is said to be a disputed merit.

Shisha, often written under as a safer alternative to cigarettes, is a ‘glass-bottomed waterpipe’ which emits radiant fruity smells of your desires. But, surprisingly, for such a simple task of smoking, shisha requires a rather sophisticated device, inclusive of many components from grommets to diffusers. Thus, there is already a physical distinction from its cigarette counterpart. However, it is from the water jar where, unsurprisingly, most of the common misconceptions about shisha arise.

So the misconceptions, which are often seen as a major contributor to why shisha has become increasingly popular since the noughties, become intriguing as a blur between fact and fiction becomes visible. The first main myth to this tobacco craze would be the bubbling water creates the illusion of the smoke being cleansed and purified thus apparently being made healthy. Although, in reality the water, bubbling it may be, does not filter out all the toxins and the fruity smell is only the guise for the smoke which contains the otherwise cancer causing chemicals. Dr Sellehudin Abu Bakr even goes as far as to call the water ‘filter’ a ‘gimmick’. Additionally, passive smoking can be dangerous as it can be the smoke and its composition which causes harm. In the smokes composition exist an addictive substance: nicotine, which can cause a dependence upon this social commodity which increasingly seems harmful. Unfortunately, this is not where the problems end, as sharing a mouthpiece increases the risk of infection with TB or hepatitis, both of which come with disastrous implications.

As a result of public unawareness, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had, from their research published as ‘Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking’ in 2005, which found that, contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke of shisha contained many toxicants which can cause lung cancer, heart disease and can have other detrimental effects to your body. The WHO also came to the conclusion that 1 hour of smoking shisha is equivalent to up to 200 cigarettes worth of smoke, and this isn’t particularly ‘good’ smoke as the heat sources for shisha are often cinders or charcoals. These are dangerous as they release carbon monoxide.

Additonally, shisha delivers nicotine which as many of you may know, is an addictive substance. Despite the water absorbing some of it, it still enters your body in substantial amounts, so much so, that it can cause addiction, like other tobacco products. The study also highlighted the dangers of second-hand shisha smoking. So by even entering a shisha bar where others are smoking, even by not smoking yourself, you can still be endangered. Also, another important note to focus on is that in this research, they had showed shisha, like cigarettes to contain the capacity to have an adverse effect on the unborn baby during pregnancy. So by smoking shisha, one can potentially harm their baby.

Therefore, one must ask the question on whether smoking shisha is really as harmless as others advocate. In light of the WHO research, it becomes increasingly clear that there are dangerous aspects to this craze, but the research isn’t conclusive enough, many seem to argue. Thus, in order to really clear the misconceptions surrounding shisha, more research needs to be carried out.