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Rise in ‘shisha bars’ prompts health warning on dangers of waterpipe smoking

Publication Date: 13th March 2012

Subject: Public health

Press release

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has joined the British Heart Foundation to voice concern about the dangers associated with shisha smoking. The call coincides with National No Smoking Day (14 March) and follows new data showing a dramatic rise in the number of shisha bars across the UK.

Shisha smokers inhaling flavoured tobacco through exotic waterpipes have become a common sight in city streets across the UK.

Ian Gray, CIEH Principal Policy Officer says;

“Our members are growing increasingly concerned at the rising numbers of commercially operated shisha bars which are both providing and promoting shisha smoking.

“While our primary concern is to ensure that the operators of these establishments comply with the law, we are also concerned that people smoking shisha need to be properly informed about the risks. We welcome the fact that the health dangers associated with shisha smoking will be highlighted on National No Smoking Day.

“So great are our concerns that we have produced a guidance document which includes descriptions of the health hazards associated with smoking waterpipes. “

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “Contrary to popular belief, shisha is not safer than smoking cigarettes. Don’t be duped by the sweet smell and wholesome sounding fruity flavours, if you use shisha you are a smoker and that means you’re putting your health at risk.

“It’s linked to the same serious and life-threatening diseases as cigarettes and there are added risks because you often smoke it for far longer than you would a cigarette and you’re also exposed to toxins from the wood or charcoal used to burn the tobacco. Fortunately No Smoking Day is a great opportunity for anyone who smokes, in whatever form, to try and quit.”

Shisha smoking is linked to the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smoking including heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and problems during pregnancy (1). Yet more than one in ten (13%) UK adults surveyed for the BHF thought there were no health harms from using shisha, and just 43 per cent knew shisha could contain tobacco (2).

Freedom of Information data from 133 local authorities in major towns and cities across the UK shows 53 per cent have – or have had - a shisha bar since 2007, while more than 40 per cent have seen a rise in the number of shisha bars since the smoking ban came into force (3).

This is in stark contrast to the steady decline in cigarette smokers in the UK (4) and has prompted the BHF to urge people to find out the facts about shisha, which is also known as hookah, hubble bubble and narghile, as part of its No Smoking Day campaign.

More than 750,000 people attempt to quit on No Smoking Day each year. But the charity is concerned thousands of quitters may still be putting their health at risk by using shisha, and that the rising number of shisha bars could provide a new gateway for people to start smoking and become addicted to tobacco.

Almost everyone surveyed for the BHF were unaware that during a typical hour-long shisha session you can inhale the same amount of smoke as from more than 100 tobacco cigarettes (4). A total of 84 per cent of respondents thought it was 10 or fewer.

The survey results also showed shisha is most popular among young people with more than a quarter (27%) of 18 to 24 year olds saying they’d used it. Worryingly misconceptions about the dangers of shisha were highest among this group and those aged 25-34 with 15 per cent each believing there were no health harms from shisha at all while 44 per cent of the younger adults thought it was less harmful than cigarettes.

By comparison, 17 per cent of overall respondents thought shisha was less harmful than cigarettes.

The data showed shisha is no longer a pastime for perceived specific community groups alone, with almost one in ten (8%) people of white ethnicity saying they’d used it.

The survey also showed almost one in ten (9%) former cigarette smokers have used shisha as well as almost one in ten (8%) non-smokers.

Notes to editors

  • The CIEH is the UK’s leading provider of accredited food safety and health and safety qualifications
  • The CIEH’s 50 qualification training programmes are delivered through a network of over 10,000 registered trainers. The training is developed for the varied skill levels within organisations. They cater to different learning styles and preferences through a series of flexible structures. CIEH qualifications are OFQUAL (formerly QCA) accredited and are valued and recognised throughout the world
  • The CIEH is the professional voice for environmental health representing over 10,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people's health can be improved
  • For more information about the CIEH visit www.cieh.org
  • For CIEH media enquiries, please contact Ava Lawrence on 020 7827 6342.