Spotlight on shisha

Shisha has long been a popular pastime in the Middle East, but the humble hookah pipe – also known as hubbly bubbly - is particularly prominent during Ramadan, when virtually every hotel and restaurant erects some sort of shisha tent What is shisha? Shisha is tobacco mixed with molasses and fruit flavours and is smoked in a hookah. A hookah consists of a hollow glass base, which is filled with water, a vertical pipe topped with a clay bowl for the tobacco and a colourful hose. When a smoker sucks on the hose, the smoke is drawn down the pipe and through the water, which cools and filters it to produce a bubbling sound.

What’s the shisha story? Shisha pipes have been around for hundreds of years but it was the Turks who turned the pipe into a phenomenon that dominated popular culture during the reign of the Ottoman emperor Murat IV (1623 and 1640.) In the centuries that followed, the trend spread across the entire Arab world. Shisha made one of its first appearances in western culture in Lewis Carroll's book Alice in Wonderland in the character of the smoking caterpillar.

How many flavours are there? How long have you got? Traditionally in the Middle East, people typically smoked plain-flavored tobacco. Fast forward to 2006 and there is a fantastic array of flavours to choose from. Apple is arguably the most popular but others to try include pineapple, strawberry, apricot, grape, rose, mint, and even cappuccino.

How long does shisha last? Smoking shisha can last for up to two hours or more. Typically it is a very peaceful, social and relaxing occasion filled with good conversation and friends.

Any celebrity shisha smokers? Stella McCartney, Tracey Emin, Damon Albarn et al have all turned to the ancient Arabic tradition of the shisha pipe as a means of relaxation.

How unhealthy is shisha smoking? Hookah's ability to produce pleasant, non-irritating smoke has led many to believe that smoking shisha is less detrimental to one's health than most other methods of smoking tobacco. Unlike cigarettes, where smoke is produced by the burning of dried tobacco, hookahs produce a dense, flavourful smoke by heating moistened tobacco. Some shisha afficionados say that fewer cancer-causing carcinogens are produced because the tobacco is heated, rather than burned.

Regardless of whether shisha is safer than ciggies and cigars, the fact remains that shisha is tobacco and smoking it therefore, cannot be great for your health.