'Nargilehs pose risk of cancer, lead to drugs'

Anti-drug Authority says water pipe usage on the rise among teenagers, about 50% of whom occasionally smoke them.

April 4, 2012 03:54
3 minute read.
Teenagers smoke a nargila pipe.

Hooka water pipe nargileh smoking 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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The nargileh you are smoking may kill you, according to a press release distributed by the Anti-drug Authority on Tuesday. In the release, the authority claimed that the water pipes that are ubiquitous in Israel’s parks and beaches pose a health risk that can lead to cancer, drug use and even death.

The statement quoted a Dr. Harel Fish from the authority who says that smoking nargileh has spread like wildfire among Israeli youth, and that today nearly 50 percent of Israeli youths kick back with the water pipe from time to time, a phenomenon that he says was nearly non-existent a decade ago.

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The Anti-drug Authority stated that, contrary to popular belief, there is no proof that smoking shisha tobacco in water pipes is safer than cigarettes, and in fact it may be more dangerous, due to the carcinogens given off by the charcoal placed atop the nargileh.

Furthermore, the Anti-drug Authority quoted research that it said has concluded that smoking a hookah can be a sort of legal “gateway drug,” opening the way for youths to eventually move on to illegal drugs, as well as binge drinking and violence.

The authority said that each year younger and younger children enter what they refer to as “the world of nargilehs,” which they said can cause them to begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs at a younger age.

“We know that around 14 percent of nargileh smokers smoke marijuana, as opposed to 2% of the general population,” Fish said in a statement released by the Anti-drug Authority on Tuesday, quoting a report compiled by the Ariel University Center of Samaria.

The press release was met by dismissal, skepticism, and hearty laughter at the Ajami Café on Jaffa’s Yefet Street on Tuesday.

Inside the hookah bar, a group of about six twenty-something men lounged around smoking nargilehs, and spoke of the relatively harmless joys of the ritual they say is a central facet of their lives.

“This is the best thing in life, smoking a nargileh; they say this stuff to scare kids,” said Mahmid Mahmoud, adding that cigarettes are more dangerous due to the greater convenience of lighting a cigarette than smoking a nargileh, which requires sitting for around a half-hour next to a slowly smoldering water pipe.

Saud Kassas laughed off the health risks too, saying that his nargileh sessions don’t hurt his ability to play football with the Tel Aviv Sabres in the Israel Football League, where he is a star offensive lineman.

Like the rest of the guys, Kassas was smoking apple-flavored tobacco (“the Marlboro of shisha”). He did admit that the report was more or less correct about the boom in the use of nargileh, saying that it was once a diversion popular only with the older generation in Jaffa, and that now every kid has one in his house.

Café owner Jimmy Mahameh took issue with the authority’s claim that the use of nargileh is still on the rise, saying that recently passed taxes on the shisha tobacco, imported from Egypt, has caused many people to cut down.

Either way, judging by the reactions in the café, the authority shouldn’t expect their warnings to succeed where higher taxes have only made a dent.

“If people stop smoking nargileh, they’ll go crazy, they’ll lose their minds,” Mahameh said.

“Everything is dangerous – cell phones, air pollution. Everything gives you cancer, nu,” Mahmoud added, shrugging his shoulders as he exhaled the sticky apple smoke toward an adjacent traffic circle.

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