THE shisha, or hookah, an instrument used for smoking tobacco, with the smoke passing through a water basin, has for centuries been a part of various cultures, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Now it has entered popular culture with young people taking it up as a show of sophistication, and the aromatic smoke is now common at many of Zimbabwe’s trendier clubs and bars.
Now, establishments like Bulawayo’s Backroom Shisha Lounge and Vintage Shisha Bar draws scores of young people on weekends and even week nights.
From the lavish settings of Pablo’z VIP Lounge in Borrowdale, to the outdoors of KwaFatso in Glen Norah, Harare, shisha is the in-thing.
Many people who do not smoke cigarettes have hopped onto the shisha bandwagon, with the assumption being that it is a “safer” habit.
For around US$10, a hookah is hired and shared among friends. Those who prefer their personal hookahs part with between US$60 and US$200 depending on the size, brand and sophistication.
But shisha is not “safer” as it comes with health risks associated with exposure to toxic chemicals and infectious diseases —think oral herpes, tuberculosis, hepatitis and influenza, to mention a few — from sharing pipes.
Those who hire out hookahs say they sanitise the pipes regularly, while some customers request they insulate the tips with foil. In an interview with The Sunday Mail Society, Family Health Director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Bernard Madzima, said: “People who are sharing shisha pipes are at risk because they are exposed to droplet transmissions and other infections that spread through saliva. Another thing that should also be considered is the sanitisation of these pipes and because they are being used by many people; there is need to sterilise them.”
Shisha users are also at risk of the same problems that affect cigarette smokers: heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and problems during pregnancy.
Most containers of flavoured tobacco have warnings on how smoking damages the lungs and that the smoke can also harm those nearby.
Oddly, some establishments which do not allow normal cigarette smoking indoors have okayed shisha.
Research by the World Health Organisation highlights that the volume of smoke inhaled in an hour-long shisha session is equivalent to smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes. WHO’s findings estimate that on average, a smoker will inhale half a litre of smoke per cigarette, while a shisha smoker can take in between a sixth of a litre to a litre of smoke per inhale.
Lovemore Mukuringofa of the Cancer Society of Zimbabwe says that as long as tobacco is involved, there are bound to be serious health implications.
“It should be noted that lung cancer cases that are related to tobacco smoking are on the rise so there is a strong need to advocate for the reduction of smoking.”