Inspired by a recent tweet from Rhys, I have decided to reproduce a little bit of work I did on explaining “shisha” to someone otherwise unaware.
I still quite frequently find that people are ignorant of what it is (and isn’t) and what the potential harms are – indeed many will claim it is safer than “traditional” cigarettes. So I’ve tried to summarise all of that here. Please feel free to add your favourite sources on this topic in the comments.
What is shisha?
Shisha or sheesha is a method of smoking flavouried tobacco through an apparatus called a hookah. It is also known as “waterpipe tobacco” because the smoke passes through water before it’s inhaled.
The tobacco is available in many (often fruit) flavours and the popularity of shisha, especially among younger people (18-24 years) has increased in recent years. This appeal has been attributed to a more pleasant/less irritating smoking experience, cheaper costs, it being a sociable activity and perhaps carrying less social stigma compared to cigarette smoking nowadays.
How is shisha harmful?
It’s commonly thought that smoking tobacco using shisha is far less harmful than cigarettes. This is false; it actually seems that this method can be just as dangerous as cigarettes, causing many of the same diseases (including cancer, respiratory diseases and heart disease) and risks to pregnant women and children.
The water-filtering of the smoke does not remove the harmful substances from the tobacco smoke. Users are still exposed to carbon monoxide, tar (light cigarettes are not safe either), chemicals that cause cancer (carcinogens), and the addictive substance nicotine.
It has also been noted that exposure to carcinogens may actually be higher for shisha users due to the greater amount of time spent smoking; typically up to an hour, as opposed to the average 5-10 minutes for a cigarette. The WHO has compared one shisha session to smoking 100 or more cigarettes. It’s also common for shisha smokers to also be cigarette smokers, which complicates research.
Shisha pipes can also spread infectious diseases due to sharing the mouthpiece with others while smoking; including gum disease, TB, hepatitis and herpes. Passive smoking can also harm those nearby who are not actively smoking, perhaps more than cigarette smoke because of the additional fuel used to burn the tobacco, which also realeases harmful chemicals. This is further exacerbated by venues offering indoor smoking facilities.
It is accepted that more research is needed to fully understand the risks of shisha smoking, but, based on current evidence, it is safe to say that it is harmful. An early day motion was put forward in 2011 suggesting more should be done to educate the British public about the potential dangers of shisha, and to ensure smoke-free legislation is followed around the country.
Is it illegal to smoke shisha outdoors?
For the law fans: smoke-free legislation states that any premises open to the public or used as a place of work must be smoke-free in all enclosed spaces (those that have a ceiling or roof; and, except for doors, windows and passageways, are wholly enclosed either permanently or temporarily).
This does apply only to enclosed spaces, according to the Health Act (2006): “In any case, premises are smoke-free only in those areas which are enclosed or substantially enclosed.” – c. 28, Part 1, Chapter 1, S. 2: smoke-free premises, etc. point 4.
Local authorities may impose additional smoke-free premises that are not enclosed if there is a risk significant exposure to smoke, and owners of establishments may choose to make their outdoor spaces smoke-free. These areas must be clearly marked with no-smoking signage.
Smoking in smoke-free premises is an offence, but being unaware that an area is smoke-free is a legitimate defence; it is the responsibility of the management to make the smoke-free status clear, and to challenge offenders.
The act specifies ‘tobacco’ and ‘smoking’ but does not currently differentiate between cigarettes and shisha. Cafés specifically catering to shisha smoking are not exempt from smoke-free legislation and must comply by ensuring smoking spaces are not enclosed.
Anyone who knows me knows what my view on smoking is. It’s pretty similar for this. I think there are much better ways to have fun with friends than breathing in smoke, and I’m sure in future people will look back on these pasttimes with disbelief.
For people who have seen loved ones suffer because of this expensive, unhealthy habit, it’s really a no-brainer. I won’t patronise you further, and I hope this proves useful to some.
- BMC Series Blog – Up in smoke: the truth about shisha pipe smoking