Health care workers warn students about its risks. Sara Nour reports

Smoking shisha has long been a part of the Arab world. It has also increasingly become a part of the lives of teenagers and young adults. And some health experts are concerned about that.

Shisha vs cigarettes
"The shisha culture which is an integral part of Arab social life is growing in popularity all over the world," said Dr Jobeetha Yousuf, general practitioner at the American University of Sharjah (AUS).

However, she noted that it has been proven that shisha is as potentially unhealthy as cigarettes. Yousuf cautioned that "shisha smoking is addictive as it delivers significant levels of nicotine - the addictive element in tobacco which also contains tar."

Another finding showed that shisha is more harmful than cigarettes. "Recent studies have found that hookah smokers (shisha smokers) actually inhale more nicotine than do cigarette smokers because of the massive volume of smoke they inhale," said Yousuf, citing a UK report.

Editha Santos, staff nurse at the American University in Dubai (AUD) said: "Shisha is also linked to other unique risks not associated with cigarette smoking. For example, infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV) may be spread by pipe-sharing or the uncontrolled manual preparation of the tobacco used."

Peer pressure
Notes surveyed 25 students at AUS and AUD. Eighty-nine per cent of them said they smoke shisha at social gatherings.

"Nearly all tobacco users begin smoking before their high school graduation," said Santos.

"Many children start using tobacco by the age of 11 and many become addicted by the age of 14. I can probably say it is ridiculously popular all over the world due to the influence of TV, movies, advertising, friends and family."

According to Jad Al Sa'abi, a visual communication student at AUD: "People who don't smoke cigarettes are somehow encouraged to smoke shisha by their friends."

"Shisha is good at times when you're with a group of friends and you all get together at a shisha place," said AUD business student Aziza Othman.

Moreover, the large number of shisha hangouts available in Dubai play a major part in encouraging people to come back for more. AUD finance student Lamia Dalle explained that the "majority of the coffee shops in Dubai have shisha so it's always tempting to smoke."

Why people smoke shisha
Nowadays shisha has become a part of everyday life and it's more of a fashionable trend. People smoke shisha for fun, taste and tradition.

As Obada Murad, a computer science student at AUS, said, "I love the way shisha tastes."

AUS mass communication student Rawad Al Akawi said "smoking shisha is more of a tradition in Arab countries."
However, Ahmad Oneissi, a business student at AUS, gave a different reason: "Most of the time, I smoke shisha out of boredom."

"I prefer shisha as it tastes and smells better than cigarettes," said Karim Mugy, a business student at AUD. "I also enjoy the large amount of smoke that the shisha produces."

Even though most of the students interviewed enjoy smoking shisha, a few of them are against the idea.

"Life is short, shisha is fun but it just makes your life shorter, so basically not all the joys of life last long," said Mais Jawad, a visual communication student at AUD.

However, Murad made a clear distinction between smoking shisha for fun and becoming addicted. "It's okay to smoke shisha from time to time with your friends as long as it doesn't become an addiction."

The survey also showed that more boys than girls smoke shisha. Female students agreed that this is due to the belief that it's inappropriate for a girl to smoke shisha.

AUD visual communication student Dali Murad said: "Shisha is filthy; I hate it because I feel it makes a girl look cheap."

"I believe shisha doesn't really make a girl look presentable, it's something I wouldn't want to experience," added AUS mass communication student Dana Maarouf.

Health risks
"The younger you are when you begin smoking; the more likely you would become an adult smoker. Almost 90 per cent of adult smokers became addicted to tobacco on or before the age of 18," said Santos.

"Research has shown that adolescent tobacco users are more likely to use alcohol and illegal drugs than non-users," she added.

Shisha has several negative impacts on health. Depending on the level of exposure to shisha, one may be mildly or severely affected. Yousuf said: "Flare ups of asthma, bronchitis, colds and allergies," are the short-term effects of smoking shisha.

In addition, "it causes significant health problems among children and adolescents, including coughing, shortness of breath, production of phlegm, respiratory illnesses, reduced physical fitness, poorer lung growth and function, and poor overall health," Santos explained.

Long-term health risks
"Lung cancer, cancer of the mouth, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, acceleration of the ageing process of skin-wrinkling etc," said Yousuf.

- The writer is a student of the American University of Sharjah