Men enjoy shisha at a cafe. Experts believe shisha is more harmful than smoking cigarettes — but in an undercover way. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: Although research has proved that shisha (hookah) smoking is no less harmful than cigarette smoke, some residents across the capital are certain that experts are exaggerating while others agree with the scientific results.

During a lecture he gave in the capital, Dr Wasim Maziak, Department of Epidemiology Professor at the Florida International University and Director of the Syrian Centre for Tobacco Studies, revealed that smoking shisha is more addictive than cocaine, according to his findings.

“Additionally, there is a gateway hypothesis which states that windpipe smokers are more likely to switch to cigarettes within the next three years. This is because when users are unable to smoke shisha for whatever reason, they seek to find other sources of nicotine,” Dr Maziak said.

Shisha smokers in the capital however were unable to completely agree with the expert’s testimony.

“When looking at the dangerous effects of windpipe smoking versus cigarettes, one needs to consider the temperature at which the tobacco burns in both, which I believe is different. Plus, it’s as simple as this: cigarettes are a lot more accessible than shisha. Therefore, people smoke cigarettes much more often,” said 23- year-old Gaiath Barakat, a finance student at the University of Sharjah (AUS).

Dr Maziak, however, told Gulf News that although no research has proved that windpipe smoking is more harmful than cigarette smoke, comparing both is similar to making an analogy between apples and oranges.

“I think that shishas are more harmful but in an undercover way. They look nice and ‘Arabic’, it is socially acceptable for men and women to smoke them here in the UAE in general,” said Ashraf Bachnak, a Lebanese expat.

Dr Maziak stated that the perceived harmfulness of windpipe smoking as being much less than cigarette smoke is because of several factors including its scent and the temperature of the inhaled smoke.

“The flavoured tobacco (m’assel) are placed on shisha heads to give the smoke a scent and taste. It is aromatic and feels less harmful. Plus, by the time the smoke is inhaled it is a lot colder than that of cigarette smoke simply because of the relative distance between the mouth and the source of fire,” he told Gulf News.

Long-term shisha smokers like S.D. said that he has felt the toll that this form of tobacco has taken on his health. “I felt its effects on me far more than cigarettes and medwak (local pipe) smoking. You lose your breath more and don’t have the energy to do anything. I have been smoking it for nine years and I can vouch for how addictive it is,” the Syrian Al Ain resident said.

Finally, Dr Maziak said that he does not intend spreading this knowledge to advocate a cause. Instead, he has been working with groups which are spreading awareness on this matter and he is providing support groups with the information they need to make people steer away from this habit and opt for a more healthy and active lifestyle.