Shisha pipe trend poses health risk
Our trend-conscious society has a habit of embracing what is fashionable first and thinking of the consequences later. Most times, it is just a new clothing line or electronic gadget, so there are minimal, if any, risks. Shisha tobacco does not fall into such a category. The increasing prevalence of bars and restaurants that offer customers water pipes to smoke the fruit-flavoured substance raises questions about whether authorities are aware of the potential health hazards.
An apparent absence of efforts to educate and regulate would suggest not. This is despite overseas studies showing that, depending on the tobacco used and smoking method, a shisha pipe is as bad for health as a cigarette - and perhaps dramatically worse. Although the smoke first passes through water from a bottle, it still contains the carcinogens present in nicotine that can cause respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer. Carbon monoxide levels are so high that World Health Organisation research indicates a usual 40-minute session could be equivalent to smoking several hundred cigarettes.
The risks are not made clear to people patronising places offering shisha pipes. While cigarette packets by law have to carry health warnings, no such provision would seem to be enforced for shisha paraphernalia. The anecdotal evidence of bar and restaurant owners is that it is brought into Hong Kong in such small quantities that customs officials are not usually involved. The one saving grace is that the ban on indoor smoking at least appears to be observed.
Research into shisha smoking is not as extensive as for cigarettes, so there is no conclusive proof that the long-term effects are the same. That lack of evidence and the use of tobacco flavours that smell sweet and taste smooth have led to perceptions that it is less harmful than cigarettes and perhaps not at all. But credible studies reveal otherwise. With authorities not even knowing where shisha smoking is on offer, it is time they paid closer attention to the trend.