Many people are misled into thinking that shisha pipes (also called hookahs) are safer than cigarettes due to their exotic smells and attractive waterpipes, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The warning comes as the BHF seeks to raise awareness of the risks involved in smoking shisha.
The same amount of smoke can be inhaled during a typical hour-long shisha session as from more than 100 tobacco cigarettes, the BHF found. Yet 84 per cent of survey respondents thought it was equivalent to ten or fewer cigarettes.
Researchers found that the majority of users are unaware that shisha smoking is linked to the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smoking, including cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and problems during pregnancy.
Around 15 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 – some of the most common users – believe there are no health harms from shisha at all, and 44 per cent think it is less harmful than 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.”
Worryingly, Freedom of Information data from 133 local authorities in major towns and cities across the UK shows 53 per cent have – or have had – a shisha bar since 2007, while more than 40 per cent have seen a rise in the number of shisha bars since the smoking ban came into force.
Robin Hewings, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control manager, confirmed that shishas are not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.
“We know that smoking rates are dropping but there is a real concern that the number of people smoking shisha is on the rise. Shishas are a health risk and we would urge people to treat them with caution.”
The research on shisha was carried out as part of the No Smoking Day campaign, a day UK smokers are urged to use as an opportunity to kick the habit. Most smokers say they wish they had never started.
“Fortunately No Smoking Day is a great opportunity for anyone who smokes, in whatever form, to try and quit,” said Dr Knapton.
One of the key objectives for the health community is to prevent the next generation from taking up smoking. Pushing for plain, standardised packaging for all tobacco products, so all packs are the same and host large health warnings, is a vital part of this drive.
It is hoped that plain packaging will make cigarettes less appealing to youngsters. A study published in Tobacco Control found that more women than men smoked less, as well as finding smoking less enjoyable, when using plain packs.
The Cancer Research UK-funded study also found that some smokers said they would be more likely to attempt quitting if all cigarettes came in the dark brown unbranded packs used in the research.
The team found young adult smokers took out plainly branded packs less often, handed cigarettes out less frequently, and hid the pack.
Copyright Press Association 2012