Tuesday 23 August 2011

Shisha, defiance and petitions

I was mildly amused to see this story about shisha smoking in The Guardian today, because the journalist had contacted me back in April and I'd passed her on to hookah expert Kamal Chaouachi. Four months later, I'd forgotten all about, but here is the resulting article...

Smoking shisha: how bad is it for you?

It is growing in popularity but some experts say a single shisha session is the same as smoking 200 cigarettes

Some readers might recall that back in 2009, the BBC reported that...

Shisha 'as harmful as cigarettes'

Smoking a shisha pipe is as bad for people as smoking tobacco, the Department of Health and the Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre has found.

This is nonsense, as Chaouachi explained at the time, but soon the myth had taken hold that...

Shisha is 100 times worse than cigarettes

And this game of Chinese whispers quickly evolved into...

Shisha 200 times worse than a cigarette

Presumably, then, anti-smoking advocates would recommend that shisha smokers take up a pack-a-day cigarette habit to reduce their risk by 90%?

Of course they wouldn't, because they know as well as everyone else that the "200 worse" statistic is garbage. It's not based on harm to health, but is purely a calculation of how much smoke is inhaled. Shisha smoke is, however, fundamentally different to cigarette smoke. For one thing, shisha works on the heat-not-burn principle and is filtered through water. As Chaouachi explained to The Guardian, the resulting smoke is chemically different:

Dr Kamal Chaouachi, a tobacco expert who teaches at Paris IX University and has researched shisha for 15 years, says comparing shisha with cigarettes "amounts to comparing oranges to apples".

According to Chaouachi, studies led by independent researchers at the Royal University of Saudi Arabia have shown that shisha smoke is 30 times less concentrated in chemicals than cigarette smoke, contradicting the WHO's warnings. "It is ludicrous and anti-scientific to claim that hookah or shisha smoke is 200 times more toxic than cigarette smoke," he says. "While about 5,000 chemicals have been identified so far in cigarette smoke, chemists and pharmacologists from Saudi Arabia only found 142 chemicals in shisha smoke. Also, a medical team in Pakistan found that shisha smoke can be much less carcinogenic and radioactive than cigarette smoke."

There is also an acknowledgement that the BBC's story back in 2009 was, well, bollocks:

In March, the BBC published a news story claiming that GPs in Leicester "are seeing an increase in teenagers with health problems linked to shisha pipe smoking". But Leicester PCT now says the story was erroneous; while it maintains the number of teenagers in the city smoking shisha is on the rise, it says GPs have not confirmed an increase in treating patients with health problems caused directly by shisha.

The BBC is just great at reporting on tobacco issues, isn't it?

By coincidence, I happened to be in Beirut when the journalist first contacted me about this story. There is a very great deal of shisha smoking in Lebanon and so I was intrigued to hear that the country has just introduced a smoking ban. But it sounds as if the Lebanese will deal with the ban in a civilised and practical way:

“I don’t think people will follow the law. We’re Lebanese,” she said, looking out of the window at the chaotic Hamra traffic. “Like the seatbelt and traffic light laws, people will find ways to get around the law.”

Like many Lebanese restaurateurs, Ahmadieh isn’t too concerned about the new smoking ban, one of a raft of new laws introduced after a long parliamentary break, as she doesn’t believe that it will be strictly enforced, but rather applied according to the acceptance of each bar, cafe or restaurant owner.

Good for them. Meanwhile in the USA:

Lawmakers banned from Michigan bars

In an act of solidarity, Michigan bar and restaurant owners have banned state lawmakers from their property.

Effective September 1, the group Private Property Rights in Michigan said in a release Monday that lawmakers will be persona non grata in over 500 Michigan licensed establishments, across the state.

PPRM said it believes, however, even more will take part.

The group says bar owners and workers have grown frustrated with the Ron Davis law; also known as the private property tobacco use ban. PPRM claims the ban has collectively cost the state an estimated $200 million dollars in lost revenue through losses in jobs, taxes, business closings and to the state lottery.

Note to the British pub industry: this is what a pair of balls looks like. Here's the list of the MPs who voted for the smoking ban. Why not grow a pair?

Finally, Anthony Worral Thompson has set up an e-petition asking for the smoking ban to be reviewed and amended. You may rightly be cynical about the government's exercises in direct democracy but if you don't show your support, they'll interpret it as support for the bully state. Go sign it.


Anonymous said...

From the Guardian story:

"Meanwhile, the Niche Tobacco Advisory Group (NTAG) for North England recently introduced an educational campaign on shisha smoking."

Has anyone heard of this NTAG group. Can't find anything on Google. What does niche mean in this context and how many people in this country make a living this way? It must run into tens of thousands.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Good to see someone else rubbishing the BBC's tobacco coverage. But then, all other media should be doing it if they had any decent journos themselves.

Ta for linking to the petition, too. :)

George Speller said...

There are plenty of other pro-choice petitions there. Search for smoking and choose carefully. Why use a bullet when you can fire buckshot?

Anonymous said...


Niche in the context of NTAG is mentioned here.

You can see who is behind this here:-

Anonymous said...


More here:-


dearieme said...

Comparing oranges to apples is a perfectly rational activity - why do people object to it so much?