Think shisha is safe? You’ve inhaled the equivalent of 200 cigarettes

A new grassroots campaign will urge water pipe smokers to quit, dispelling the dangerous misconception that the centuries-old pastime is harmless and even purifying. The Lebanese Muslim Association and South East Sydney Local Health District have joined forces to lead the project backed by a $386,000 NSW government grant to warn people off the water pipes also known as nargila, argileh, hubbly bubbly, hookah and goza. They will focus their efforts on areas around Bankstown, Canterbury and St George on Sydney and Bankstown where shisha has slowly grown in popularity at cafes, restaurants and bars. “Many people don’t realise that just one shisha session of an hour may be as harmful as smoking 100-200 cigarettes due to the volume of smoke inhaled,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. “This project will hopefully save lives by helping people better understand the dangers of all tobacco products and encourage them to quit the habit,” Mr Hazzard said. The alarming figure comes from a 2005 World Health Organisation advisory note that recommended water pipes and water-pipe tobacco be subjected to the same regulation as cigarettes and banned from public places. “Contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke that emerges from a water pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other disease,” WHO’s specialist tobacco study group (TobReg) warned. Executive director of the Lebanese Muslim Association, Ahmad Malas said the project would need to harness the strengths of community organisations to change the perceptions of shisha smoking. “It is critical we tackle this early on before people suffer chronic conditions that permanently impact their lives,” he said. Chief cancer officer and CEO at the Cancer Institute NSW, Professor David Currow said shisha smokers were unknowingly putting themselves at risk of the same deadly diseases that kill cigarette and second-hand smokers including mouth, throat and lung cancers, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and adverse effects for pregnant women and their babies. “This a really big health issue for people who assume smoking shisha is somehow safer because the smoke is filtered through water,” Professor Currow said. “They are exposing themselves to the carcinogens of tobacco and its highly-addictive nicotine, as well as the carcinogens of the charcoal creating the heat.” This was not the case of health authorities subjecting a culturally diverse community to a top-down anti-shisha campaign. “It’s the local community that is driving this effort,” Professor Currow said. He said shisha smoking had also spread beyond the communities that have strong cultural ties to the practice and growing numbers lighting up the water pipes at least once a week, exposing themselves to more harm than pack-a-day smokers. “The bottom line is water pipes are not a safe way to use tobacco. There is no safe way to use tobacco,” he said. An increasing number of countries are banning indoor smoking, including water-pipe smoking. These countries include Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India, where water-pipe smoking has a stronger tradition. NSW’s current laws on smoking apply to water pipes, including a ban on smoking in outdoor public areas, commercial outdoor dining areas and within four metres of the entrances to/exits from cafes, restaurants, clubs and hotels. The campaign is one of 37 projects that will receive a share in $4.5 million in funding grants for cancer control from the NSW government, including initiatives targeting smoking among Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The Age, 19 October 2018 ;