Risks of Smoking Shisha

Shisha, also called Hookah, is a water pipe of Arabic origin. The instrument itself can be tall or short and can be made of glass, copper, brass, aluminum, and even gold. There are several holes from which the hose is inserted where the user can take in the flavored smoke. Although smoking shisha only came to the West through specialty bars, it’s very much a part of the Middle Eastern culture and even Asia. In fact, it’s said to have originated in India.

However, government authorities and health agencies have warned of the dangers of shisha smoking as it’s deemed more harmful compared to cigarette smoke. For instance, the charcoal that is used to heat up the tobacco inside the instrument generates high levels of cancer-causing substances and carbon monoxide.

Also, what most people don’t realize is that the tobacco inside the pipe still contains the same toxic agents found in cigarettes like nicotine, arsenic, lead, and tar. Diluting these agents in water doesn’t really reduce the risks.

Equally Harmful to Cigarette Smoke

It’s not clear when the idea of shisha smoking as less harmful came about. Perhaps it’s the idea that the water will help dilute the toxic agents. But it’s equally—and perhaps even more—harmful to smoking a cigarette. This probably contributed to how its use is less frowned upon compared to a cigarette stick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the Monitoring the Future survey in 2010, about 17% of boys and 15% of girls in high school admitted to having used shisha in the past year. When they enter college, the prevalence of use increased between 22% and 40%.

The CDC also outlined the health risks of shisha smoking:

  • The smoke contains several toxic substances that target your lungs, throat, tongue, and bladder
  • Oral cancer is very much a possibility
  • Mouth irritation
  • Toxic substances can target your heart and arteries
  • Communicable diseases can be passed on to the other users by sharing the pipe
  • The tobacco contained in the shisha still contains nicotine and tar

Because it’s similar to cigarette smoking, you are at risk for:

  • Oral cancer
  • Esophagus cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Infertility
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Respiratory tract infection
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight for the infant
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

There’s also what is known as “smoker’s cough.” This is the condition where the smoker can’t stop coughing, particularly in the morning. This happens because the smoke impedes the sweeping action in the cilia in the nose. However, when a person sleeps, the cilia resumes the sweeping action. Also, the body is trying to expel all the irritants and substances that accumulated from cigarette smoking.

The advocacy group Cancer.org noted that death from cigarette smoking is highly preventable. However, it’s the main cause in 1 in 5 deaths in the United States. It’s more dangerous, in fact, compared to guns, car collisions, alcohol, HIV, and opioid overdose. It also cuts the lifespan by 12 years for men and 11 years for women.

Risks of Passive Shisha Smoking

In the same vein, second-hand smoke is also as harmful. Most shisha sessions are done indoors, which puts at risk the other bar patrons inside the bar.

The UK National Health Service warned that second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 toxic and cancer-causing agents. Because shisha is done indoors, it makes it more dangerous. Apparently, the harmful toxins will stay in the air for 2-3 hours before it dissipates. So, when you enter a shisha bar, you are immediately put yourself at risk.

The British Heart Foundation warned that it’s even more difficult to ascertain just how much tobacco is ingested by the user unlike with cigarettes. In fact, the group said that one puff of the shisha smoke is equivalent to consuming a whole stick. It depends on how many puffs the user takes in one sitting, not to mention the stale smoke in the air which contains the harmful agents. In fact, an hour’s session is equivalent to 100 sticks of cigarette.

The group also warned people against being fooled into thinking that herbal shisha is not harmful. Some vendors may advertise their products as herbal, which means herbs or fruits may be added into the pipe. The labels of these products claimed that you can enjoy shisha without ingesting the harmful toxins contained in tobacco. However, it’s no less healthy.

In fact, the British Heart Foundation said that even the so-called tobacco-free shisha is not risk-free. That’s because of the carbon used to heat up the substance and it can produce other toxins and carbon monoxide.