Smoking Shisha is a practice that is growing worldwide among the youth in numerous countries including Tanzania. One of the main reason for the increase in shisha users is the notion that shisha is not harmful. This is a false presumption. There is enough evidence to state that the use of shisha is more harmful than the use of cigarettes. Shisha smoking generally involves the smoking of flavored tobacco through a water pipe called “Hookah”. Often times, the flavored tobacco is burnt using coal thus releasing smoke which is inhaled for a period of 20 - 80 minutes.
Unlike popular belief, smoking a hookah puts a person at a far greater risk to lung cancer than smoking a cigarette. This is because a cigarette smoker generally takes 8-12 puffs each containing 40-75ml of smoke for a period of 5-7 minutes.
This comes up to a total of 0.5 liters of smoke per cigarette. However, shisha smoking sessions last between 20 - 80 minutes where the user may take 50-200 puffs each containing up to 600ml of smoke. Hence, a single session of shisha smoking is equivalent to consuming 100 cigarettes or more. The smoke produced by hookah contains high levels of toxic compounds including heavy metals and carcinogens.
In addition to this, some of the charcoals used to light up the hookah contain highly flammable chemicals which produce toxicants when combusted such as carbon monoxide and other cancer-causing chemicals. This causes numerous harmful effects, some of which are cancer, heart problems, periodontal disease and low birth weight. Shisha smoking is generally done in groups whereby users share the hookah. This poses a great risk of developing infections.
If any one of the shisha users has an infectious disease or if the pipe wasn’t thoroughly cleaned and a previous user had an infection, the risk for contracting it is very high. This includes infections such as; tuberculosis, pneumonia, aspergillus and helicobacter. Second hand smoking also poses a threat to the health of many people. This is because the non-smokers who sit near the hookah also consume the carcinogenic chemicals that come from both the tobacco and coal. The following are toxic chemicals found in tobacco that cause cancer: Acetaldehyde, Aromatic amines, Arsenic, Benzene, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cumene, Ethylene oxide, Formaldehyde, Nickel, Polonium-210 and Polycyclic aromatic.
Common Shisha Myths:
Myth 1: Hookah smoke does not contain harmful chemicals as they get filtered out through water.
Truth: Smoking tobacco through water does not filter out cancer-causing chemicals.
Myth 2: Shisha smoking is not addictive as it does not contain nicotine
Truth: Just like regular tobacco, shisha contains nicotine and a typical hookah session exposes a person to 100 times more nicotine than smoking a cigarette.
Myth 3: Shisha smoking is healthier than smoking cigarettes.
Truth: Shisha smoking is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes because of the amount of smoke inhaled as well as the charcoal used during a typical hookah session. In fact compared to a single cigarette hookah smoke contains 15 times more carbon monoxide and 36 times more tar.
Myth 4: Shisha tobacco contains fruit flavors and is healthy.
Truth: The fruit flavored tobacco used in smoking shisha still contains cancer causing agents and nicotine. Hence, the fruit flavor does not reduce any harm caused by the tobacco.
The notion that shisha smoking is less harmful than cigarettes is false and misleads many youths. Therefore, if you don’t smoke shisha, it may be better if you didn’t hang around a shisha lounge. And if you do smoke shisha, it may be time to quit.