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in terms of (generally popularly motivating)
aesthetic impact, it was determined that
sheesha smokers have higher statistical rates of
dental plaque than cigarette smokers.
Dr. Baljoon also noted that a statistically
significant level of infants born to sheesha-
smoking mothers has low birth weight. Low
birth weight generally translates into low brain
weight, as the brain is where babies have their
greatest weight. While 10 percent of cigarette
smokers have low birth-weight babies, 7.5
1 Sheesha
18-50 Cigarettes
percent of sheesha smokers have low birth-
weight babies. (Four percent of the babies of
non-smokers are considered low birth-weight.)
Swapping spit and
communicable diseases
While detailed studies on the risk of sheesha
use in relation to communicable diseases
remain limited -- in fact none has been
completed by the renowned Centers for
Disease Control or World Health Organization
-- significant patterns have generated cause
for concern and elicited commentary, at least,
from WHO representatives. In analyzing
health hazards associated with smoking in
general, the factor that sets sheesha smoking
apart is that water-pipes accessible at sheesha
joints throughout the world, are generally
shared -- like drinking glasses at bars. The
difference is, sheesha pipes are impossible
to clean, so they’re not. Even if the water
bowl and mouthpiece were boiled in a vat of
antibacterial gel between uses, water vapor
and saliva droplets blown into the typically
unwashable cloth-fiber tube would likely
snuggle far enough inside the soft secure
fibers of the tube -- an ideal dark and damp
habitat where bacteria and germs are happy to
According to Alissar Rady, a medical officer
at the World Health Organization, sheesha
smoking is directly related to the spread of
orally transmitted diseases, though the extent
of the effect cannot be measured.
“Any disease that can be transmitted through
contact with saliva is possible to contract when
smoking narguilah, if cleanliness isn’t adhered
to,” says Rady. “Cold viruses like herpes, oral
bacterial infections, and tuberculosis can all be
passed through saliva.”
Because tuberculosis, like other orally
transmitted diseases, can be spread through
coughing and other means,
there is no direct way to verify cases attributed
to water-pipe smoking. However, according to
Rady, the constant recycling of water-pipes at
cafes raises concerns that water-pipe hoses that
harbor bacteria create a means of transmitting
UAE Ban Plan
Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates
and its exciting emirate of Dubai, in particular
- an increasingly popular Middle Eastern
tourist destination for foreigners - folks who
are typically fond of trying exotic new things
- continually strive to both enforce the legal
smoking age of 21, as well as work to eliminate
the spread of contagious diseases throughout
the emirates.
If a link exists between communal use of
smoking instruments and contagious diseases,
then the ban on cigarette smoking in enclosed
public venues throughout Dubai, recently
implemented by Dubai Municipality, may, at
least, be a tiny first step in eliminating that
Expatriates in the UAE who are found to
have contracted communicable diseases are
immediately deported. Since annual blood
screenings are performed on all expatriates,
such problems are expeditiously eliminated.
During the first half of 2003, Dubai
Municipality Clinic and Medical Services
arranged for the deportation of a record
number of expatriates who were found to be
carriers of contagious diseases - a 35-percent
increase from the previous year - according
to the half-yearly report issued by the
department. The section carries out medical
fitness check-ups on expatriates seeking to
obtain or renew a residence visa, and deports
those with communicable diseases like AIDS,
tuberculosis, hepatitis, and leprosy.
The report stated that from the beginning
of January until the end of June 2003, 360
expatriates who had been detected with
communicable diseases were deported. This
figure compares to a report from the first
half of 2002 showing that 267 expatriates
carrying communicable diseases were
deported. (UAE nationals who are found to be
carriers of communicable diseases are quickly
Hang up your hookah
The immense difficulty faced by
governments throughout the world that
attempt to eradicate communicable
diseases such as TB could likely be
helped by individuals who hang up
their hookahs.
Unfortunately, throughout the Middle
East, in particular, sheesha smoking
for many is more than a passing fad.
It is a cultural tradition featuring an
iconic symbol of social solidarity and
indulgence. Despite its obvious or less
obvious health risks, the instrument
likely won’t be relegated a mere patio
accessory anytime soon.
In recognizing the importance of
keeping our germs to ourselves, at
least, café owners who permit sheesha
smoking could post signs that are
similar to notes occasionally printed
on party invitations: BYOB, generally
meaning Bring your own beverages.
July/Aug 2013