Health warning to shisha smokers


Jane Kirby
Wednesday 14 March 2012 09:00

The number of cafes offering "shisha" tobacco pipes has risen 210% since the smoking ban came into force, a charity has warned.

Many people are unaware of the health risks from smoking the flavoured tobacco, which can be as damaging as cigarettes, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said.

Cafes and bars offering the traditional Middle Eastern pipes have been springing up across the UK since the smoking ban came into force in 2007.

Freedom of information data collected by the BHF from 133 local authorities in large towns and cities shows there were 179 shisha bars in 2007, rising to 556 now.

Some 53% of local authorities now have - or have had - a shisha bar since 2007, while more than 40% have seen a rise in the number over the last four years.

More private companies are now offering the pipes for hire at parties, corporate functions, weddings and other events.

Shisha smoking is covered by the UK smoking ban, meaning it is illegal to smoke the pipes inside cafes and bars.

Those cafes with outdoor smoking shelters need roofs that are at least 50% open so air can circulate.

Shisha smokers inhale tobacco with added flavourings or sweeteners through a vessel filled with water.

Although the water cools the smoke and makes it feel less "harsh", the tobacco can still cause ill health, including lung and mouth cancer.

Because the smoke is cooler, some experts say people inhale it more deeply into their lungs, which increases the risks even further.

Some shisha bars do not use tobacco at all and instead offer customers flavoured herbal mixtures.

But the BHF is warning that people may not know the difference and few overall are aware that the pipes are as harmful as cigarettes.

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said: "Contrary to popular belief, shisha is not safer than smoking cigarettes.

"Don't be duped by the sweet smell and wholesome-sounding fruity flavours, if you use shisha you are a smoker and that means you're putting your health at risk.

"It's linked to the same serious and life-threatening diseases as cigarettes and there are added risks because you often smoke it for far longer than you would a cigarette and you're also exposed to toxins from the wood or charcoal used to burn the tobacco."

A survey of more than 2,200 people for the charity found almost everyone was unaware that people could inhale the same amount of smoke during an hour-long shishasession as from more than 100 cigarettes.

Most (84%) thought it was equivalent to 10 or fewer.

Overall, 13% thought there were no health harms from smoking shisha, and just 43% knew it could contain tobacco.

Smoking shisha was most popular among young people, with 27% of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they had used it.

The survey was released to mark No Smoking Day.

Public health minister Anne Milton said: "Waterpipes or shisha fall under the same laws as other forms of tobacco in the UK.

"That means you can't buy them if you're under 18 and you can't smoke in any enclosed public places or workplaces in England.

"We want local areas to develop and implement evidence-based local tobacco control strategies and work in partnership across their communities to encourage smokers to quit.

"This includes supporting local enforcement activities for niche tobacco products such as waterpipes."


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