Saudi Arabia: Smoking Shisha (Hookah) May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Smoking the hookah continues to increase in popularity around the world.  One can easily find hookah bars in most cities these days which offer an abundance of fruity tobaccos.  In Riyadh, where there are limited social opportunities for Saudi guys, going to a male only hookah bar is a favorite past time for Saudi guys where they meet up with their friends. However, now, the United Kingdom’s health authorities have come out with a strong warning against smoking the hookah:

UK health authorities issue Shisha health warning

A coalition of the UK’s leading public health bodies, led by Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, has issued a health warning about the dangers of shisa smoking.

Shisha smokers inhaling flavoured tobacco through waterpipes at cafes have become a common sight on city streets across the UK.

Mr Ian Gray, world renowned tobacco control campaigner and CIEH Principal Policy Officer said:

“Our members are growing increasingly concerned at the rising numbers of commercially operated shisha cafes which are both providing and promoting shisha smoking.

“While our primary concern is to ensure that the operators of these establishments comply with the law, we are also concerned that people smoking shisha need to be properly informed about the risks.

“So great are our concerns that we have produced a guidance document which includes descriptions of the health hazards associated with smoking waterpipes.”

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation (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.”

Shisha smoking is linked to the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smoking including heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and problems during pregnancy. Yet more than one in ten (13%) UK adults surveyed for the BHF thought there were no health harms from using shisha, and just 43 per cent knew shisha could contain tobacco.

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 cafe since 2007, while more than 40 per cent have seen a rise in the number of shisha cafes since the smoking ban came into force.

This is in stark contrast to the steady decline in cigarette smokers in the UK and has prompted the BHF to urge people to find out the facts about shisha, which is also known as hookah, hubbly bubbly and narghile, as part of its No Smoking campaign.

The charity is concerned thousands of people who attempt to quit smoking may still be putting their health at risk by using shisha, and that the rising number of shisha cafes could provide a new gateway for people to start smoking and become addicted to tobacco.

Almost everyone surveyed for the BHF were unaware that during a typical hour-long shisha session, you can inhale the same amount of smoke as from more than 100 tobacco cigarettes. A total of 84 per cent of respondents thought it was 10 cigarettes or fewer.

The survey results also showed shisha is most popular among young people with more than a quarter (27%) of 18 to 24 year olds saying they’d used it.

Worryingly, misconceptions about the dangers of shisha were highest among this group and those aged 25-34 with 15 per cent each believing there were no health harms from shisha at all while 44 per cent of the younger adults thought it was less harmful than cigarettes.

By comparison, 17 per cent of overall respondents thought shisha was less harmful than cigarettes.

The data showed shisha is no longer a pastime for perceived specific community groups alone, with almost one in ten (8%) people of white ethnicity saying they’d used it.

The survey also showed almost one in ten (9%) former cigarette smokers have used shisha as well as almost one in ten (8%) non-smokers.

Notes to editors
•       The CIEH is the UK’s leading provider of accredited food safety and health and safety qualifications
•       The CIEH’s 50 qualification training programmes are delivered through a network of over 10,000 registered trainers. The training is developed for the varied skill levels within organisations. They cater to different learning styles and preferences through a series of flexible structures. CIEH qualifications are OFQUAL (formerly QCA) accredited and are valued and recognised throughout the world
•       The CIEH is the professional voice for environmental health representing over 10,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people’s health can be improved
•       For more information about the CIEH visit


18 Responses

  1. it is hazardous to your health!my husband, although from Jeddah, never could stand the sight n smell of it. thank God bcoz I loath smoking in any form!

  2. It is now even illegal to sell Sheesha products within Riyadh City limits (before it was illegal to have any cafe’s/restaurants or any public venue serve sheesha within city limits).. people who want to buy mu3asal now(flavored tobacco) need to drive out of the city to purchase it. I think its a great change. People can follow @SmokeFreeKSA on twitter.

  3. I love your blog American Bedu!! It’s filled with great info!!

    I’m guilty of smoking shisha lol. I come from a culture where smoking shisha is a common place especially when it comes down to social gatherings. While doing it people are sharing ideas from just normal talk to hardcore issues like politics or religion. Or even just smoking and texting away on their cell. Smoking shisha adhere’s to the idea of just slowing down and relaxing, compared to just smoking a cigarette which fits new yorkers who are always on the go lol. I guess you can say that smoking shisha is like a artform and it teaches you certain etiquettes.

    However, you are right any kind of smoking is still hazardous to your health! Thank god I don’t do it every weekend like how I did before. I love smoking it, but the smell afterwards is terrible, it sticks on you !

  4. Interesting. Had no idea.

    But then I’m not a smoker and most of my friends aren’t either. It’s a coincidence, really.

  5. I’m a sometimes shisha smoker myself, and all this sudden worry about shisha in the UK and the US is pressure from the large cigarette company who are already losing business with many quitting smoking altogether. Hookah may contain plenty of tobacco, and may have the same effects as a cigarette, but cigarettes have additives that are far worse than your average hookah head, addicting chemicals and preservatives that include arsenic, that’s right, rat poison. Ontop of which, shisha is NOT and I repeat NOT addictive. I do not know one person who just HAS to have their argeelah fix everyday or they get tense and angry and withdrawal symptoms etc etc. Most of us can take it or leave it, and would not suffer one bit from not smoking it. I cannot say the same about my Arabic 2 pack a day mother in law.

  6. For years the world had to listen to tobacco companies and smokers talk about how cigarettes were safe, and how anyone could quit anytime. Well there are still a few hold-outs among addicts and people making money off of them but it’s pretty hard to find anyone who doesn’t know better than that.

    Now it’s the hookah smokers turn. It’s tobacco. It’s nicotine. It’s addictive. Not only that it puts a lot more smoke into the lungs and is in some ways even WORSE than cigarettes. Pick your poison, but tobacco use and nicotine addiction is the common denominator.

  7. The stuff stinks, meaning it smells awful. Cigarettes are the worst by far but still it stinks.

  8. I found that I enjoy the aroma of most shisha (hookah). But I can not stand the scent of a cigar. Big time gag!

  9. I like the smell of cannabis plants, but not when they are smoked! 😈

  10. I find it quite interesting that smoking shisha is an acceptable ‘culture’ in the western region compared to other regions where it’s pretty despised or looked down upon. Also, if you’re a female and choose to be a smoker then expect to face all sorts of defamatory remarks about you and the rest of your life!! 🙂

  11. Actually Hind, only one comment has come from someone who has smoked shisha. Additionally you better get facts straight… shisha is and has been enjoyed in the Middle East for far longer than in the West.

    Were you jumping to conclusions about females smoking by MY comment where I said I enjoyed the aroma? That is not the same as smoking it.

    However, if a woman chose to be a smoker, then that is her choice. Besides, I don’t think people should be guided by what others might think.

    I am not defending or supporting smoking but I deplore comments where people get unjustly judged.

  12. Hind is telling us what other people think of females smoking shisha.

    btw I have smoked shisha and am very good in preparing one.
    But then I am already in the elevator to hell…. going down….

  13. The smell of Hooka can be very tempting, but the harms of smoking can be extremely dangerous to your health and those around you. One session of smoke can be 200x more harmful than cigarettes. We have big campaigns here in UK that are in support of educating everyone about the harms of shisha.

  14. Hind , believe me when I say there are ALOT of eastern women who smoke shisha. If you are generalizing that shisha is an acceptable culture in the west by my comment, then please dont. What i meant is that smoking shisha is part of my eastern background.

    Smoking shisha in the west is popular now , but it’s very new compared to the middle east and south asia where it has been done for a very very long time.

    Finally, yes the aroma is nice , but after doing it for a hour or so , it’s not so nice lol

  15. Oh misunderstanding!

    I was referring to the western region in KSA lol… People in Jeddah and Makkah are familiar with this culture and tolerant towards it compared to other regions IN KSA!!! I don’t know much about the West, so dont get me wrong! Sorry my words were not clear enough for you guys 🙂

  16. Oh, one more thing! I have nothing against women who choose to smoke, that’s their business. My comment was supposed to criticize the social ‘values’ and ‘norms’ which discriminate against Saudi women.

    Art, awww 😦

    Omeish, yeah I know that, I am a Saudi myself and I know how much Arab women love smoking shisha. Yet, I believe the increasing number of female smokers here is one of the signs of revolting against the misogynist norms that prevail in our society.

  17. Hehehe talk about major misunderstanding!

  18. Can anyone know where to buy Shisha ive been looking for a week now. Im living in Riyadh but couple of store my friends knew was closed already..And someone told me its now illegal to sell shisha but there are store secretly selling.. I hope someone here now where to buy…?

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