It’s always been a source of curiosity to me that even my health-conscious friends in the Middle East rarely pass up an opportunity to suck on a shisha pipe – as though that seductive bubbling inferno of nauseously sweet tobacco is neither addictive nor harmful.
Me? No. Way. I’ve tried it twice and it literally makes me sick to my stomach. And now, thanks to a recent BBC article, I have a much better sense of why. The stuff is toxic, and way more so than a piddly little cigarette. Read on to learn more but be warned, shisha lovers may not want to hear what we have to say.
Shisha, Argileh, Hookah
The BBC points out several misconceptions that may have led to the increasing popularity of shisha, argileh, or hookah pipes not only in the east, but in the west as well.
First, people assume that the bubbling water absorbs all toxicity and cools the tobacco, which may be somewhat true, although the paper sites a World Health Organization report that demonstrates that even filters seem fairly insignificant in the face of the fire that keeps the sticky tobacco going.
That’s right. Charcoal. Without charcoal, the moist tobacco is almost impossible to burn and sidewalk shisha cafes would be populated by men and women sporting fish faces from sucking so hard to keep the pipe going. The thing is, charcoal is definitely not harmless.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
According to the BBC, teens in Florida who smoked shisha pipes were tested for carbon monoxide levels, and it was found that they have triple the amount coursing through their bodies than those who had not smoked shisha. And the feeling of being high, say experts, could be attributed to early indicators of carbon monoxide poisoning.
In certain cases of prolonged exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal.
People also think that they are only smoking the equivalent of about ten cigarettes or less. Not so, says BBC’s Claudia Hammond. Because, on average, people smoke a pipe for up to an hour, they end up taking 100-200 times more puffs than they would on a single cigarette.
But the long term consequences are still unclear.
Saudi health officials worry about a steep incline in heart disease cases among Gulf smokers, while others say that nicotine addiction, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are among the other health risks probably associated with smoking on a sustained basis.
We hate to kill your fun, but maybe it’s worth smoking less frequently, and reducing the duration of each pipe session?
This article was originally published in Green Prophet.