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Thu 7 Nov 2019 10:23 AM

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Is shisha really as bad for you as the world health experts say?

New report from UAE-based manufacturer Al Fakher shines light on 'misleading' comparisons between shisha and cigarettes

Is shisha really as bad for you as the world health experts say?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) – claiming that smoke inhaled in one hour of shisha is equivalent to smoking 200 cigarettes.

The sweet smell of shisha smoke may not be as bad for you after all.

A Middle East tradition practised the world over, shisha (or hookah) has come with warnings from health authorities, both internationally and locally in the Gulf region.

Much of the research to date on the topic of shisha consumption has been less than favourable, with the most prominent of them all – the World Health Organisation (WHO) – claiming that smoke inhaled in one hour of shisha is equivalent to smoking 200 cigarettes.

The strong health advice, however, has done little to quell the appetite for the Middle Eastern tradition, with the global market estimated to be worth $2 billion and expected to grow by a further 50 percent in the coming years.

In a bid to allay the drastic health fears, Ajman-based Al Fakher, the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of shisha, has commissioned a first of its kind report that it says dispels the notion that shisha is as bad as or worse than smoking cigarettes.

Shisha is very different from cigarette smoke it turns out, comprising of mostly water and glycerine, which helps produce the smoke.

The report, obtained by Arabian Business, describes the WHO report (which dates back to 2005) as “misleading” owing to the fact that the health organisation only refers “to the volume of aerosol produced, and does not consider the composition of the aerosol relative to cigarette smoke.”

Among its conclusions, the report said that water pipe users inhale far fewer harmful emissions and far less nicotine than cigarette smokers.

Similar to the way other heated tobacco products operate, the study honed in on the fact that waterpipes heat, rather than burn, shisha molasses at low temperatures – typically 190 degrees. As a result, it said the cigarette smoke is far more toxic, which burns the tobacco at temperatures of between 400 and 900 degrees. 

Smoking, Is it Harmful, Bad for Health? Shisha Vs Cigarette

Another key difference not taken into consideration by the WHO is the consumption levels of waterpipe users, who tend to use them far less frequently than cigarette smokers, the report says. 

According to Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), “average consumers in Germany smoke between one and two waterpipes a week…”compared to “between 20 and 30 cigarettes a day”.

The report sought to assess potential toxicant exposures, based on consumption patterns and to assess the potential differences in levels of toxicants in cigarettes and shisha.

The new study assessed potential toxicant exposures based on these benchmark consumption patterns.

The first part of the two-part study showed that there are far fewer harmful constituents per militre of shisha aerosol than per militre of cigarette smoke.

Part two of the study found that average shisha users are exposed to 97 percent less nicotine than typical smokers, and at least 85 percent less of other emissions of concern than a pack a day cigarettes smoker. Many harmful constituents found in cigarette smoke were not found to be present in shisha aerosol at all. 

“When comparing tobacco products, it is much more important to analyse the levels of individual toxicants that appear in the smoke or aerosol, since they are widely recognised as being relevant to the health effects of tobacco use,” the report said.

The study also suggested that emissions of concern could be reduced further in shisha by business innovation aimed at reducing the level of charcoal emissions which can get into the aerosol.

Update - the report is available on CORESTA's (Cooperation Centre for Scientific Research Relative to Tobacco) website

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