Shisha: A serious health risk

In my childhood we used to spent our summer holidays with grand parents in Punjab. There was a custom there to smoke hookah, which we never saw in Karachi. It was a strange yet interesting observation for us to see how people were enjoying it. Later on I came to know that it contains tobacco and it is a serious risk for health.

Shisha Recently I saw a glamorized version of this traditional hookah which I was familiar with, called Shisha or water pipe. My neighbors have a strawberry flavored shisha which their son use in BBQ parties. When I heard of it I asked my husband if it is just flavored smoke can I have it? He replied that may be next time you can try it. When I researched about this new trend amongst youngsters I came across shocking news that most of the people including my husband don’t know that it is a serious risk for health. People consider it just flavored smoke but it is not as simple. Dr Javaid Khan, Professor and consultant Chest Physician of Agha Khan University Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan had a research report about it.

Shisha also known as Hookah, Water Pipe or Narghile is known to man kind for over 300 years. Shisha offers a mixture of crude types of tobacco fermented with molasses and fruits and the sweet odour of fruits conceals the natural smell of tobaccos tar and nicotine. A large number of school and college students of both genders hang at Shisha houses for smoking as don’t face any hurdle there to satiate their desire. It has been claimed that more than 100 million people worldwide smoke shisha daily. It is a common practice in the Middle East, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and some Parts of China. In some parts of Middle East, Shisha use is more prevalent than cigarette smoking. Among Arab women in many countries, there is less of a stigma associated with Shisha than with cigarette smoking and therefore more and more women are taking up this habit as a fashion.

Scientific studies done to see the adverse health consequences of shisha smoking point to dangers that are similar to those associated with cigarette smoking. The research conducted on Shisha use has clearly shown that it has particularly serious health consequences on 2 vital organs of body namely the lungs and heart. Lung Cancer, Cancers of the Food Pipe, Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, Emphysema, low birth weight, precipitation of Asthma attacks and pneumonia are some of the health hazards associated with shisha smoking.

Additional dangers not encountered with cigarette smoking are infectious diseases resulting from pipe sharing and the frequent addition of alcohol or psychoactive drugs to the tobacco. Another worrying aspect of shisha epidemic is that previously it was used in countries like Pakistan and India, mainly by the elderly people living in the villages but in the past few years its use has markedly increased in the urban areas of this subcontinent. Many restaurants in urban areas are now offering Shisha to their customers.

Smoke from Shisha besides others contains hundreds of potentially dangerous heavy metals like, Arsenic, Cobalt, Chromium and Lead. Under normal Shisha use the smoke produced from a single pipe use contain approximately the same amount of Nicotine and Tar equivalent to 20 Cigarettes. Research has also shown that after 45 minutes of Shisha use expired air, carbon monoxide, plasma nicotine and heart rate are significantly elevated. Nicotine dependence may also result from repeated inhalation of tobacco smoke from Shisha. Besides Lung Cancer Shisha use is also linked with increased risk of, Mouth and Urinary Bladder Cancer.

There is an urgent need to educate the public against the dangers of the Shisha use. Our religious scholars as well as non-governmental organizations should come forward and educate the public against the Shisha epidemic which is rapidly spreading in not only in the Muslims countries but also in the developed world. Special seminars should be held in schools warning the children against the dangers of Shisha use. Government must also bring laws restricting restaurants owners serving Shisha to its customers.water-pipe tobacco should be subjected to the same regulations as cigarette and other tobacco products. Besides creating awareness about the health hazards of pipe smoking, Pakistan needs to broaden the scope of the Tobacco Control Programme to encompass water-pipe smoking as well.

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