The underestimated risks of shisha smoking

Sunday 18/06/2017

New addicts. Youths smoke water pipes (shisha) in a coffee shop in old Cairo. (Reuters)

Tunis - Shishas — water pipes — are frequently found at cafés and social gatherings in the Arab world, where the prac­tice has gained popularity in recent years. It also created new segments of addicts among Arab women and teenagers.
The habit is unique in that users inhale vaporised, flavoured tobacco through a hose-like device during sessions that are generally longer and more intensive than other forms of tobacco inhalation.
The particular problem of shisha smoking is that it is widely mis­perceived in North Africa and the Middle East as innocuous and less hazardous than cigarette smoking. Health experts say otherwise.
During an average shisha ses­sion, which lasts 20-60 minutes, a person can take 50-200 puffs of to­bacco. This means during “an hour-long session a person can inhale the equivalent of 100 to 200 times the smoke from a single cigarette,” the BBC reported.
The practice, which is more com­mon in the Middle East and North Africa than other parts of the world, comes with severe health risks.
One-time use can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or other dis­eases, including tuberculosis, her­pes, respiratory illnesses including the flu, Tracey Barnett, a medical sociologist and assistant professor of social and behavioural sciences at the University of Florida in the United States told Reuters. “Long-term use can lead to heart disease and many cancers,” she said.
“Many waterpipe smokers prac­tise the habit in the company of friends and family and it is a cen­tral component of social and fam­ily gatherings,” a 2015 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted.
The habit, which has less of a stigma attached to it for women than smoking cigarettes, is also seen as trendy for youth, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East and North Africa. In this region, chil­dren 13-15 years old are more likely to smoke other tobacco products (mostly shisha) than cigarettes, the WHO report said.