The risks of smoking shisha

Written by ashley mackenzie
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The risks of smoking shisha
Shisha smoking poses many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking. (smoking image by Arkady Chubykin from

In recent years, shisha smoking has become popular in many places, from Pakistan to London. Smoking shisha involves inhaling the smoke of a fruit-scented tobacco mixture from a water pipe. Many people view it as an alternative to hard drugs and believe it is a harmless way to smoke and socialise, according to an article by the United Nations' Humanitarian News and Analysis (IRIN). Doctors warn, however, that shisha smoking is worse than smoking cigarettes.

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Dangerous Ingredients

Typical shisha smoke from just a one pipe has the equivalent of 20 cigarettes' worth of tar and nicotine, according to physician and professor Javaid Khan at Aga Khan University in Pakistan. It also has high levels of carbon monoxide, which can cause people to lose consciousness or suffer brain damage. Participants exhale over twice as much carbon monoxide after a shisha session as cigarette smokers, according to a study by environmental health science chairwoman S. Katharine Hammond at the University of California, Berkeley.


In addition to carcinogens (cancer-causing ingredients) and heavy metals, shisha smoke is often laced with drugs, such as alcohol, narcotics and psychoactive drugs. Some of these drugs are more dangerous than the shisha smoke, and hookah lounge owners often ignore laced shisha in their cafes, according to a report at

Lung Problems

Passing around the shisha or hookah can spread infections such as herpes or tuberculosis (TB). Assistant professor Rania Siam at the American University of Cairo states that the water pipe is a breeding ground for bacteria. TB spreads under conditions of close, prolonged contact---which means that repeatedly smoking from a shisha pipe shared with an infected person is an obvious way to contract the illness.

Lung Problems

Among regular shisha smokers, lung function is decreased by 25 per cent, according to Khan. Shisha smoking poses the same lung cancer risk as cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. News and World Report states, however, that it is unclear whether shisha tar is carcinogenic in the same way as cigarette tar.

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