What is shisha?

A specially prepared tobacco is heated to produce smoke that bubbles through a bowl of water and into a long snake-like pipe to be inhaled. Shisha pipes have a mouthpiece that inhales the smoke.

The tobacco can come in different flavors and sometimes it is mixed with a dark brown sugar (called molasses sugar), which often makes the smoke smell sweet. It is usually heated by burning wood, coal or charcoal.

Shisha smoking is popular in Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and North African communities, especially among young people. It is becoming increasingly popular in the UK.

How does shisha increase my risk of cardiovascular disease?

Shisha can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because it usually contains harmful chemicals. Sometimes it is the same chemicals used in cigarette tobacco that are harmful.

Like cigarettes, shisha can contain:

  • nicotine
  • tar
  • carbon monoxide
  • heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.

These chemicals can make the walls of your veins sticky, allowing greasy material to stick to them. If the arteries that carry blood to your heart become damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the veins that carry blood to your brain, it can lead to a stroke.

As a result, shisha smokers can run the same kind of diseases as cigarette smokers.

Pregnant women may also be at risk of having the same type of cardiovascular disease and may want to discuss the risks of smoking shisha or cigarettes during pregnancy with their healthcare provider before smoking.

Even if you use tobacco-free shisha, the smoke still produces harmful levels of toxins that can be either just as bad for you or even more harmful than smoking tobacco-based shisha.

Is shisha safer than cigarettes?

No, smoking Shisha is no safer than smoking cigarettes. Many people think that smoking tobacco smoke through water makes shisha less harmful than cigarettes, but this is not true.

In a shisha session (which usually lasts 20-80 minutes), a shisha smoker can inhale the same amount of smoke as a cigarette smoker who consumes more than 100 cigarettes.

Like cigarette smoke, these toxins from tobacco-based shisha smokers carry the risk of developing:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancers
  • nicotine addiction
  • respiratory infections and conditions.

Even if you use tobacco-free shisha, the smoke still produces harmful levels of toxins that can be either just as bad for you or even more harmful than smoking tobacco-based shisha and cigarettes.

Are shisha pens safer than shisha pipes?

Like a shisha pipe, shisha pens can still be addictive because the liquid used in it usually contains nicotine. Shisha pens are devices that allow you to inhale flavored liquid and nicotine as smoke as an e-cigarette (also known as vapes). Some people use it to help them quit smoking, but more research is needed on the long-term impact of using a shisha pen on your heart and circulatory system.

Shisha pens should not be used by non-smokers or anyone under the age of 18.

Is second-hand shisha smoke harmful?

Secondhand smoke (also known as passive smoking) is when you inhale the smoke into the air from someone else’s shisha pipe and the smoke they exhale. Second-hand smoke from shisha pipes is dangerous because it contains harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, toxic chemicals and toxic particles.

Even if you use tobacco-free shisha, the smoke still produces harmful levels of toxins that can be either just as bad for you or even more harmful than smoking tobacco-based shisha.

When you socialize with friends and family who smoke, you may find it difficult to avoid secondhand smoke. You might try to keep your distance while smoking to reduce the risks to your health if you inhale it.

Is shisha addictive?

Yes, shisha is addictive. Shisha usually contains nicotine which is addictive. Nicotine is the same chemical used in cigarettes that also makes cigarettes addictive.

Nicotine is a chemical that causes your brain to produce feelings of pleasure, but the effects do not last very long. When the pleasant effects disappear, you feel the need to smoke again to rekindle the feelings of pleasure. The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good and this is how a nicotine addiction can happen.

How to quit

If you have decided to quit smoking Shisha, then you have made a good decision for your health. It can be difficult at times, but there is help available to you.

Make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse. Your local pharmacy may offer smoking cessation programs. They will help you find the best way to quit smoking and suggest medication or nicotine replacement therapy.

If you are struggling to quit, it may help to pay attention to the situations that make you want to smoke. If you always smoke when you are stressed, tired or drinking alcohol, plan ahead for these moments so that you develop new ways of dealing with them.

Even if you’ve tried and failed before, every new start counts.

Quick tips:

  • Tell your friends and family that you have stopped, they can help you stick to it and will know not to suggest smoking.
  • Try to socialize with your friends and family in new places and plan new activities to quit smoking, this is the activity you usually share together.
  • Keep healthy snacks and drinks on hand so that you are not tempted to smoke or look for unhealthy treats.
  • Keep track of the money you save by not smoking shisha. Use it to reward yourself when you reach milestones to stay motivated.

Help and support

If you smoke shisha and want to quit, it is important to know that you are not alone. In fact, you are more likely to quit forever if you have the right support that is right for you.

  • Talk to your GP, pharmacist or practice nurse about how to quit smoking. They can give you advice, enroll you in quit smoking clinics and provide guidance on medication and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you quit.
  • Get support from NHS Stop Smoking Services near you or call the Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only). Support is also available in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  • Let your family and friends know that you are quitting. Some people find it helpful to talk to friends and family who have quit smoking.
  • Call our Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311 to speak to one of our Heart Nurses.
  • Read tips to quit smoking in this Heart Matters article.

Last updated: August 2021
Next update: August 2024

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