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Monday, May 14, 2012

Shisha Smoking: The Evil Within

It has an Arabian origin, then travelled through the western world. Shisha has arrived Nigeria and is gradually gaining presence. More common in the northern region of the country than other parts, it can mostly be found in bars, night clubs and can also be personally owned. Contrary to what many see as benefits involved in shisha smoking, research findings are very alarming, Amarachi Egbeogu writes.

Many may find the word Shisha very strange, wondering what it is. Shisha, also known as Hookah, is a flavored tobacco which is smoked via a long pipe connected to an exotic-looking vessel filled with water.

Shisha smoking is becoming a common sight especially in the city of Abuja. Its awareness is more in this part of the country than in the south. Once the preserve of older men from the countries it originated from, shisha smoking is the latest trend to hit parties, bars, night clubs and lounges.

The flavoured tobacco water pipe smoking is particularly fashionable among young people today and has now become a trendy, multicultural activity particularly with students and youths.

Shisha is believed to be best 'enjoyed' in a group, having a session that can last over an hour.

Anna, an undergraduate of University of Abuja, said she enjoys smoking shisha with friends. Asked if she can smoke it alone, she replied “No, I smoke shisha in the company of friends.”  She went further to say that she finds the act very soothing and also very exciting.  “I love the nice fruity flavours; it is very soothing and also very safe” she stated.

Just like Anna, Ibrahim, a civil servant who lives in Kaduna is a shisha smoker. Ibrahim says he quit smoking cigarettes four years ago and started smoking it late last year. Ignorant of the health hazards associated with the smoking of shisha, Ibrahim claimed that it is harmless. “Shisha is really cool and unlike cigarettes, I get to smoke it occasionally.” Ibrahim mentioned that he has a shisha vessel which he entertains friends with when they visit.

Research shows that contrary to popular belief, shisha is not safer than smoking cigarettes. It usually contains tobacco and is therefore linked to the same serious life-threatening illnesses as cigarettes, such as heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory disease and problems in pregnancy.

The worst part is that shisha smokers are exposed to more toxins than cigarette smokers, because they also breathe in smoke from the 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 it is often smoked for far longer sessions than cigarettes. Smoking shisha is a leisurely, sociable activity that is done with friends and family. 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.

Many people are unaware of the health risks from smoking the flavored tobacco, which can be as damaging as cigarettes.

Night clubs and bars offering the traditional Middle Eastern pipes have started springing up across the country.

Shisha smokers inhale tobacco with added flavorings or sweeteners through a vessel filled with water.

Although the water cools the smoke and makes it feel less "harsh", the tobacco can still cause ill health, including lung and mouth cancer. Because the smoke is cooler, some experts say people inhale it more deeply into their lungs, which increases the risks even further.

Some shisha bars do not use tobacco, rather they offer customers with flavored herbal mixtures; but the challenge with that is people may not know the difference.

In a statement by Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at BHF during the course of this research, states: "Contrary to popular belief, shisha is not safer than smoking cigarettes. "Don't be duped by the sweet smell and wholesome-sounding fruity flavours. If you use shisha, you are a smoker and that means you are putting your health at risk.’’

A similar response was given by Dr Akin Orioke, a Nigerian doctor working with Julius Berger Construction Company, he said:  “shisha is filled with a lot of health hazards just like cigarettes. It can be more harmful than smoking cigarettes as a matter of fact, but most people feel more comfortable because it is smoked occasionally unlike cigarette smoking.”

Experts warn it can do more damage than cigarettes because users take more puffs of smoke. This is because a cigarette smoker typically takes between eight and 12 puffs, inhaling 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke. But during hour-long shisha sessions, smokers may take up to 200 drags, ranging from 0.15 to 1 litre of smoke each.

Shisha smoking is a growing concern because people are not aware of the risks involved like with cigarette smoking. The greater the exposure in terms of duration and amount smoked, the greater the risks to your health.

This is because, although shisha tobacco tastes nicer than cigarettes, it contains all the same toxicants known to cause lung cancer and heart disease.

So before you think of sucking that pipe, it is important you think about the dangers associated with the act.