If you thought Shisha was safer than cigarettes, you're wrong
Time Out Bahrain staff
Imagine lying in a hospital bed paralysed. You cannot breathe and your legs – including your gangrenous toes – have been removed, all because the arteries that carry blood to them have become blocked. In case you’re wondering, you’re suffering from Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), a condition you’re two and a half times more likely to contract if you’re a smoker.
Of course, PVD isn’t the only potentially lethal condition that smokers are more likely to develop than non smokers. According to the World Health Organization, every eight seconds someone dies from a smoking-related disease. ‘Of course you die younger,’ says Dr John Callaghan, chief medical officer at the General Medical Clinic in Dubai. ‘If you take identical twins, and one starts smoking at 20 and the other doesn’t, then the smoker pops his clogs up to 10 years before the other guy, all things being equal.’
The prospect of taking 10 years off your life (not to mention the increased risk of contracting a crippling disease), of course, should provide ample incentive for anyone to stay off the fags. However, here in Bahrain it isn’t just cigarettes that offer dangerous temptation to both the smoker and non-smoker alike.
For some reason – perhaps its deep cultural roots and its sociability – here in Gulf and elsewhere in the Arab world shisha has an air (or should that be a cloud) of respectability that the humble cigarette would, er, kill for. This perception and its sweet smell may even have persuaded some that it’s a safer option. Indeed, while non-smokers might never consider picking up a Marlboro, they may be tempted to try a puff on the ornate water pipes that you can find all over the island, as our young interviewees (see box) bear witness.
‘Shisha is worse (in comparison to cigarettes) because in the shisha there’s no filter and you inhale more of the impurities with each breath,’ Dr Sabina Aidarous, of the Imperial Healthcare Institute in Dubai tells us, stubbing out the notion that it is safer.
‘People tend to justify smoking shisha saying it bubbles through water and therefore isn’t as harmful,’ Dr Callaghan says. ‘Bubbling of the water just reduces the temperature a little bit.’
And Dr Sabina warns that there are hidden dangers, too. ‘They are still getting addicted to the nicotine in the shisha. We have an indication of how much nicotine there is in cigarettes, but in shisha we don’t really know how much nicotine there is because it’s so unregulated,’ she says. ‘It’s interesting, because the water that the shisha bubbles through makes it worse, because the water, combined with the humidity, makes the smoke from the shisha stay in your lungs longer.’
We asked three young people what they thought of shisha, before telling them what our doctors think. Omar Abbasi, 20 Before: ‘Shisha is more acceptable, it’s much better than smoking. It’s not as hard as cigarettes, and there’s less tobacco because of the flavouring. I would say it’s much better than smoking. It’s less of a health risk.’
After: ‘It’s worse? Are you serious? I haven’t done my research on it, but I was always under the impression that shisha was better, I guess because it’s more socially acceptable here so everyone is under the impression that it’s better.’
Sakina Lunavadawala, 21 Before: ‘Of course shisha is better. If it wasn’t it would be all over the media, especially with the amount of shisha places. In our culture a girl smoking cigarettes is looked down upon where as if she’s smoking shisha it’s more acceptable – it’s seen to be a part of the culture. Families smoke shisha together, where as you would never dream of smoking cigarettes in front of your parents.’
After: ‘It’s worse? Like it damages your health more? That’s strange, my friends and I go to shisha joints all the time and it’s seen as perfectly acceptable. I guess there’s not enough information going around about shisha and everyone is just ignorant.’
Syed Qasim Ahmed, 21 Before: ‘I think it’s better than smoking cigarettes, because it’s done less frequently. And also there’s water, so most of the harmful tobacco is filtered.’ After: ‘I always thought it was better. There’s no information about shisha, so I guess no one knows how harmful it is.’