Is shisha as harmful as cigarettes?

Betty McBride

124036767 300x216 Is shisha as harmful as cigarettes?Shisha smoking through exotic looking waterpipes has become a common sight in city streets across the UK. Once the preserve of older men it’s now become a trendy, multicultural activity popular particularly with students and young people.

University club nights are increasingly featuring shisha tents for partygoers and there are now even companies offering a handy home delivery service for shisha right to your door. And with its sweet smell and wholesome sounding fruity flavours, surely it’s just a bit of harmless fun – even for people who’d never dream of lighting up a cigarette?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. We talked about the dangers of shisha earlier this week on No Smoking Day because new research shows widespread ignorance of the harm it can cause along with a dramatic rise in the number of shisha bars in the UK.

More than 750,000 smokers attempt to quit on No Smoking Day each year, so we thought it fitting to extend the invitation and support to anyone who uses shisha too. At the very least we wanted to make sure shisha smokers were aware of the risks and could then make an informed decision about whether it was something they wanted to continue.

Contrary to popular belief, shisha – also known as hookah, hubble bubble and narghile – is not safer than smoking cigarettes. Shisha usually contains tobacco and is therefore linked to the same serious and life-threatening illnesses as cigarettes, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and problems in pregnancy.

What’s more, shisha smokers are exposed to more toxins than cigarette smokers because they also breathe in smoke from the wood or charcoal used to burn the tobacco – it’s like breathing deeply next to a smoky barbecue, something most of us try to avoid.

There are added risks with shisha because you often smoke it for far longer than you would a cigarette. Smoking shisha is a leisurely, sociable activity that you do with friends and family – a far cry from a hurried cigarette outside alone in the cold. In fact, a typical shisha session lasts about an hour, which is significantly longer than the usual couple of minutes people take to smoke a cigarette.

Almost everyone we surveyed was unaware that during a typical hour-long shisha session you can inhale the same amount of smoke as from 100 tobacco cigarettes. In fact 84 per cent thought it was 10 or fewer.

This level of unawareness is all the more alarming when you consider that the number of shisha bars in the UK has rocketed by 210 per cent since the smoking ban came into force in 2007. This was the finding of our Freedom of Information requests to 133 local authorities in major towns and cities across the UK – the first ever audit of its kind.

The Freedom of Information data shows 53 per cent of local authorities have – or have had – a shisha bar since 2007, while more than 40 per cent have seen a rise in numbers. We found a total of 179 known shisha bars in 2007 compared with 556 now.

This sharp rise in the popularity of shisha is at odds with declining cigarette smoking rates, which have fallen from 24 per cent of the population in 2007 to 21 per cent now. It’s moved on from being a pastime for older men in specific community groups to a trendy, multicultural activity that 27 per cent of 18-24 year olds say they do or have at least tried.

Worryingly, 15 per cent of this age group think there are no health harms at all from shisha while 44 per cent think it’s less harmful than cigarettes.

As well as education, better licensing laws could help protect young people from sliding into an addiction they never knew existed. If local councils had the same powers to deal with the sale of shisha – or any tobacco – as they do for alcohol, they could refuse or revoke licences at premises that flout the smoking ban or sell shisha to under-18s. Taking away the ability to sell tobacco is likely to be a far greater concern to managers than a one-off fine for these actions.

Ultimately, everyone has a right to choose whether they smoke or not. But we want to make sure people have got their facts straight about shisha – if you use it, you are a smoker and you are putting your health at risk.

Anyone who wants more information about quitting can visit or call 0800 434 6677.

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  • John Smith

    Maybe this article is a little lacking in it’s delivery of the evidence, but the evidence is out there. Whilst use of the Hookah Pipe would have to be excessive to do as much damage as cigarettes, a study done in Pakistan at the Multan Institute for Nuclear Medicine concluded that the Biological Markers for Cancer were clearly and unequivocally higher in users of the Hookah Pipe than in non smokers / users. Here’s the accepted paper:
     What I find remarkable is that not a single submission by anyone leaving comments here has worked out why there has been a massive rise in the amount of Shisha Houses in the last 18-24 months.
    It seems that it’s only a matter of time before the rules are relaxed on cannabis (again) in the UK. If and when this happens, many Shisha Establishments will already have a ‘groomed clientele’ ready to exchange the contents of their hookah pipe for cannabis. No longer will it be cannabis that is brought out from under the counter to be placed in the Hookah Pipe because cannabis will very quickly become the accepted norm.

    So what then becomes the ‘drug of choice’ for under the counter? It seems the politicians in their infinite wisdom are about to lead us a full 120 year circle. With the war all but lost in Afghanistan, and the troops ready to pull out , that final scene in Once Upon A Time In America should give most of you a clue.

    As for you Mr Harding, you’re no doubt an intelligent young man who enjoys the search for an evidence backed truth. Well, I could tell you a few stories from experience but I couldn’t evidentially support them, not least because those who would corroborate me have passed on. Perhaps if you were to read Rudyard Kippling’s first short work (The Gate Of a Hundred Sorrows) you’ll have some sympathy for my point of view but somehow I doubt it. You see, the hooks are already in you. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t have written as you have done. No offence meant….

  • mhbucklin

    Of course it is bad for you! I’m glad you are pointing it out.  And good point that it is worse because you smoke more of it for longer, the water cools the smoke.  Maybe a new social activity that is good for you would be to sit around and drink Quit Tea no harm there, and if you are a smoker it will help you quit.

  • frankie2dogs

    All those in favour of shisha, are shisha bar owners. All those who are anti shisha are health club owners, and all those in the middle are sheep.

  • Electronic Cigarette

    Shisha and cigarettes both contain nicotine, less or more both are not safe.

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