Shisha is now banned across cafes and coffee shops Image Credit: Gulf News

DUBAI: With almost all the emirates banning the use of shisha in the wake of the growing coronavirus fears, doctors in the UAE said it is a welcome step.

Shisha or hookah is a traditional community smoking pot offered by many cafes and coffee shops. It has a broad base that has water and a long stem with a tobacco container. The tobacco chamber consists of a smouldering charcoal bed that is placed on top of flavored tobacco. When users draw on the nozzle attached to the long piped snout of the hookah, the smoke is pulled through the water chamber, cooling it before being inhaled into the lungs.

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Arun Goyal, Medical Director of RAK Hospital and consultant cardiac surgeon, said: “Normally the virus cannot survive the hot charcoal and the water. But the ambience of shisha joints are reasons for high transmission potential. The space is dense with smoke and people and it is not possible to maintain distance. Not everyone who has the virus shows signs of infection and a person can be a carrier even when being asymptomatic. In any case, people are being asked to avoid crowds. Shisha cafés too can fit this description.”

Dr Goyal said it is a common practice for people to cough, sneeze and clear their throats while puffing at the shisha.

“While people might change nozzles, the pipe is the main transmission source. It is the moisture drops and body fluids from the respiratory tract that, when released during a cough or sneeze which is quite common while smoking hookah, that can contaminate the outside body of the shisha and the pipe and infect others.”

Dr Sreekumar Sreedharan, an internal medicine specialist at Aster Clinic, Karama, who is a vociferous anti-smoking supporter, said: “Contamination can come from all parts of the shisha as it is shared around many number of times. Even if one is changing the nozzle, there is a high chance of contamination when so many people handle the shisha. The community activity ban is a great preventive step towards stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Good time to give up smoking

Christine Kunn, founder of the smoke cessation clinic Smokenders Middle East, said this is the best time for people to quit smoking as the virus is known to be lethal to those with co-morbidities and compromised immunity.

“During this critical time, it is preferable that one takes extra precautions with one’s health. Any type of smoking/vaping/shisha weakens your health, lungs and immunity – there has never been a better time to quit.”

She added: “It is important to abide by the official guideline provided by government bodies and stay away from shisha and anything else that could potentially put you at risk. Avoid taking any unneccesary risks and do your best to cut back or even quit. Any form of smoking weakens your health, lungs and compromises your immunity.”

Ban effective from March 12

Close on the heels of Abu Dhabi and Dubai banning shisha in coffee shops and cafes, the Ajman Municipality and Planning Department also instructed all hotel and tourist establishments, cafes and restaurants to stop serving “Shisha” from March 12. The Ras Al Khaimah Municipality and Fujairah Municipality also imposed a similar ban, effective from March 12, until further notice.