Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

Shisha scheisse


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.

Final words

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.



Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

5 thoughts on “Shisha scheisse

  1. Here in the states, hookah parlors have their hookahs set up with actual filters. There are filters that go on the end of the pipe that’s in the liquid (not always water… I once enjoyed hookah filled with cranberry juice, and a friend told me all about how he had hookah with Jack Daniels) that actually do a better job filtering than cigarette filters do. Plus, it’s standard practice at most hookah bars to add more ice than liquid, which also adds a little bit of filtering. The coal (now “natural” coal in most places… though I admit I don’t actually know what that means) is now usually housed in a “cage” which prevents the smoke from drifting out… this does not effect the taste.

    Plus, hookah parlors provide each user with plastic mouth tips, so you aren’t actually sharing a mouthpiece… you use your own tip that you attach to the hose as it’s passed to you, then un-attach when you’re done with it.

    Also, most people I know (myself included) treat it as a purely special social occasion. Last time I had any was at least six months ago, if not more, and it had been over a year before that one. Even my friends who own hookahs don’t break them out unless there’s a really good reason to (21st birthday, celebration of pledges becoming nibs [I’m in AEPi], someone gets on the honor roll, a fellow anthropologist gets a paper published), so even they’re private hookahs are decoration pieces more than anything else. In fact, I have one friend who’s owned two hookahs for two years but never actually used them. They just decorate his apartment.

    As to smoking… I get it. I understand why people find nicotine so great. Being as naturally stressed out as I am, I get what makes nicotine so enticing. I much prefer less harmful ways of de-stressing, but I also know how nicotine can make someone like me feel.

    My thing is: do it where no one (or the least amount of people) has to be subject to your second-hand. Some common courtesy in that regard is enough.

    • Hi Nathan, thanks for your comment 🙂

      The one thing I have to say is that smokers often have this misconception that nicotine helps with stress; particularly if they started young.

      The thing is, whenever you experience a nicotine ‘hit’ of some sort, you essentially prime your brain to respond to it more next time. So, receptors in the brain that receive the nicotine signal become more abundant (or more active, I forget which at present), increasing the perceived effect of the next hit.

      The lack of nicotine in between hits then *causes* stressful feelings, urging you to go and seek some out to “relax”. So the more nicotine you have, the more stressed you’re going to be when you’re not having it!

      Again, best to stay away from tobacco all together 😉

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