Shisha smoking rising among Kurdish youngsters
Taking a stroll through Erbil's downtown market, the sight of shisha pipe smoking easily catches the eye. People, mostly youths, gather in front of the teahouses and casinos to smoke shisha. This habit is hardly a new phenomenon but it has never been as widespread as it is now.
Shisha is an Egyptian word for water pipe or hookah. Fruit flavored tobacco is burnt on top of lit charcoal and the smoke is then sucked through the pipe. It is now incredibly popular among youngsters of all cultures and ethnicities whereas the practice had been non-existent among the age group a few years ago.
Although, there are no official statistics on the number of hookah smokers in the Kurdis- tan Region, all indications point to a drastic increase among youngsters. Muhammad Noori, who runs a teahouse in Erbil's Eskan Market, said "We didn't serve hookahs in our teahouse until seven months ago. Our customers' demands made us provide hookahs; I don't smoke it and I don't like at all, but people will not come to my teahouse if I don't serve it."
According to Noori, the increase in pipe use, which involves burning fruit flavored tobacco, is among 18 to 27-yearolds.
After Erbil's secondhand market of Dalalkhana changed in to a park, many shops turned their business into teahouses and cafés. Youths in the afternoons usually gather in these teahouses to spend their time while smoking Shisha pipes.
"There are now a dozen shisha cafés in this alley. Four years ago there was just one. It's increasing in popularity across the region," said Salar Dalo, a 20-year old youth, while smoking at Hawler Café watching the fountain works of the park.
Although, many cafés moved smoking sessions to the roof of their original premises following the smoking ban in 2007, many people still smoke hookah in public places which is supposedly forbidden.
In November 2007, the parliament of Iraq's Kurdistan Region approved a law to fight smoking in the province which stipulates importing and exporting cigarettes from well-known international companies and imposes fines on traders and smokers in public places. The law was supposed to come into effect on June 1, 2008 and according to the law anyone who lights up illegally would be fined 10,000 Iraqi dinars.
"I don't know why the government is not working by the rules issued by parliament. Every time when I go to the market I like to drink a cup of tea in a teahouse with my friends but I don't feel comfortable with having so many people smoking shisha around me," said Samir Jalal, who was sitting at the Machko Teahouse in Erbil.
Next to Jalal, a group of young boys were smoking pipes making the site almost invisible due to smoke. 23-yeal old Karwan Azad was one of the smokers who said "Most of the youngsters gather in teahouses and smoke shisha because they are jobless. I never knew the taste of smoking was before, but after I graduated in university and couldn't find any jobs, I started to come here and learned to smoke." When asked if he and his friends are aware of the dangers of smoking shisha, Azad explained, "we are aware that's not good for health but we forget when we're gathering, chatting and having a smoke.”
There is a popular misconception among Kurdish people that smoking shisha is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes. In fact researches have revealed that pipe smoking maybe more harmful than smoking cigarettes.
Dr. Dlawar Aziz, who has a master’s degree in family medicine, said "Many people are not aware of the negative affect of shisha smoking on human health. There is a great misconception that shisha smoking isn't as harmful as cigarette smoking. Actually many international researches have shown an average pipe smoking session of around ten minutes is equivalent to smoking up to 20 cigarettes."
According to Dr. Aziz, hookah tobacco and smoke contain numerous toxic substances known to cause heart disease. Sharing of smoking pipes also increases the risk of tuberculosis and flu. Second-hand smoke from hookah units pose a serious risk for nonsmokers, particularly because it contains smoke not only from the tobacco but also from the heat source (i.e. charcoal) used in the hookah.
Those who smoke hookah inhale a larger volume of tobacco smoke, more deeply and for a longer period than a cigarette, in a smoking session. Smoking hookah has negative effects on a smoker's lung.
Hookah comes from Middle Eastern countries. Some hookah tobacco contains herbs, flavorings or molasses. The fruit-flavored hookah tobacco is especially attractive to teens.
Waiters prepare hookahs for their customers in Today Cafe in Erbil.