Sunday, July 27, 2008


What is it about this famous sheesha or hookah that has taken over our Arab Street by storm - to both Arabs and non-Arabs as well. If you walk along Arab Street and Bussorah Street, there are countless sheesha joints - and at night, these smokers will line up the corridors of dirty streets or even rolled up in a room (never mind the smoke) together enjoying this new cultural pasttime?

From wikipedia: Numerous studies have shown that extended use of sheesha over many sessions can be as detrimental to a person's health as smoking cigarettes. Each hookah session typically lasts from 20-80 minutes and consists of 50-200 puffs which range from 0.15-1 litre per puff. This exposes the sheesha smoker to considerably more smoke over a longer time period compared with a cigarette which ranges from 0.5-0.6 liters per cigarette.

While the water absorbs some of the nicotine in the tobacco smoke, the smoker can be exposed to enough nicotine to cause addiction. Furthermore, the water moisture induced by the sheesha makes the smoke less irritating and may give a false sense of security and reduce concerns about true health effects.

Other research shows that a 45 minute session of sheesha tobacco smoking (tobacco molasses) delivers slightly more tar and carbon monoxide (around 5-10%) than a pack of cigarettes. This study has, however, come under criticism for using unrealistically high temperatures for the tobacco (600-650 degrees C) and using arbitrary figures for tar filtration rates. This could possibly have skewed results, as the carcinogenic and toxin levels of smoke increases dramatically with temperature (Wynder 1958).

Some sheesha tobaccos claim to contain 0.0% Tar, but this is misleading because tar is made when tobacco burns. However, when smoking a sheesha, the tobacco is heated rather than burned. More research is needed to determine the exact amount of tar produced in a session before the burning of the tobacco.

The level of impact on a smoker's health is linked to the set-up and components of the sheesha as well. A sheesha only utilizing the basic components is believe to have much harsher health consequences than one set-up properly and with various safety devices installed: Since the tobacco in a sheesha is roasted as opposed to burned, the density and temperature of the tobacco is paramount to ensure a safer quality of smoke."

Proponents of this activity however quotes: "Smoking a narghile (sheesha) is nothing like smoking a cigarette," a 71-year-old pensioner named Ismet Ertep said as he looked up from his pipe. "Cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run," he said. "When you smoke a nargile, you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company. Nargile smokers have a much more balanced approach to life than cigarette smokers."

From "The Turkish Narghile - Inhale the Pleasure of an Unhurried Ottoman Past"; Stephen Kinzer, the New York Times, June 10, 1997.

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