25 January 2024 • Shisha

Shisha: Not as glamorous as you think

There has been an increase in the number of places where shisha is available, but do you know what the health risks are? And do you know what the law says about smoking shisha inside?

Graphic which illustrates a campaign to promote the risks of smoking shisha.

Shisha is a way of smoking tobacco, just like cigarettes, cigars and pipes. And this means that it contains the same harmful chemicals. People who sell shisha often glamorise it, making it look fashionable and a way to bring people together to socialise.

But it’s more risky and less glamorous than you might think.

What is shisha?

Shisha involves heating specially prepared tobacco to produce smoke which is sucked through a water bowl and into your lungs.

The tobacco is often flavoured and sometimes mixed with dark brown sugar to give it a sweet smell.

Shisha, which is also known as hookah, waterpipe, narghile or hubble bubble, originated in India before spreading through the Indian subcontinent, onto East Africa and beyond, and eventually becoming popular across the world.

In recent years, it has been adopted as a way to socialise as well as a cultural activity.

What are the risks?

Smoking shisha has the same risks as any other form of tobacco smoking. You breathe in smoke and vapour which contains dangerous, even deadly chemicals including:

  • carbon monoxide
  • tar
  • arsenic
  • lead

It also contains nicotine – which is highly addictive. Even if you only smoke shisha occasionally, you can become addicted, with the nicotine cravings keeping you coming back for more and more and more.

With every puff of shisha, more than half a litre of toxic smoke goes into your lungs.* The water in the shisha pipe does nothing to filter out these chemicals.

It is estimated that an hour of smoking shisha is the equivalent of smoking 100-200 cigarettes.**

The dangerous chemicals in the smoke will affect your physical health, so you might notice that keeping fit is harder because of the damage you are causing to your body.

You will be at greater risk of developing:

  • heart and circulatory diseases
  • cancers
  • nicotine addiction
  • respiratory infections and conditions

And if you are planning to start a family, you could find it harder to get pregnant, as the chemicals in tobacco smoke affect the sexual health of both men and women.

Shisha is often smoked in social situations, so you might be tempted to share pipes with friends. But, you could also be sharing infectious diseases with them, like flu, colds, coronavirus, tuberculosis, herpes, and hepatitis.

Secondhand smoke

The smoke you breathe out contains the same harmful chemicals as the smoke you breathe in. This means that anyone sitting with you and people around you will be breathing in these chemicals as well, even if they are not actually smoking.

Most secondhand smoke is invisible, doesn’t smell and is impossible to control, so no matter how careful you are, people can still breathe in the harmful smoke. Even after the visible smoke has disappeared, the harmful chemicals are still in the air and can still cause harm.

You could be breaking the law

It is against the law to smoke tobacco in enclosed public spaces, so this can include shisha bars and cafes, and even outdoor spaces like marquees and shelters which are more than 50% enclosed. To be legal, the space either needs to have no roof, or at least half the structure is open to fresh air.

If you are caught smoking shisha in such a space, you will be given a Fixed Penalty Notice which comes with a fine of up to £50. It’s not just the owner of the venue that will be prosecuted.

Just because the venue is selling shisha doesn’t mean that it is legal, and you won’t be able to use this as an excuse.

*World Health Organisation (https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/161991/9789241508469_eng.pdf

**Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry & Behaviour (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S009130570400214X)

Know the risks. Is it still worth it?

You’re three times more likely to succeed with our support. When you are ready to quit, switch or cut down, get in touch:

Call: 0114 553 6296 (free from landlines) or 07833 048200 (free from mobiles).

Information for Smokefree Partners

Since 2018, the number of venues offering shisha has doubled. The venues are also reaching out to a wider audience, promoting themselves to a broader demographic and positioning shisha as a social activity, rather than a cultural pastime.

Research indicates that there is a lack of understanding of the health risks of smoking shisha – which are the same as other forms of tobacco smoking – and of the legal implications of offering and smoking shisha indoors or in an enclosed space.

This campaign aims to raise awareness amongst young people and their families about the risks associated with smoking shisha.

Key messages for young people

  • Shisha smoking might not be as glamourous as you think
  • Some shisha premises have been found to have poor hygiene levels, including dirty preparation areas, shared mouthpieces and even dangerous set ups making it risky and unsafe
  • Sharing shisha mouthpieces opens you up to the risk of infectious viruses and diseases, including colds and flu, gum disease, mouth ulcers and even oral herpes
  • Just because it smells nice doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Breathing in secondhand shisha smoke still has the same risks as smoking, and is especially harmful to pregnant women
  • Just because you don’t do it often, doesn’t mean it’s not risk-free – 1 hour of shisha is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.
  • You are responsible for your smoking shisha at a cafe. If you are caught inside smoking, or in a non-compliant shelter, you could face a £50 fine.
  • There are other places you can socialise without exposing yourself to shisha smoke.

Key messages for adults/parents

  • Even if you aren’t smoking shisha yourself, if you’re around others who are, you are inhaling secondhand smoke.
  • Shisha may smell nice, but breathing in secondhand shisha smoke exposes you to the same chemicals as those smoking, and is especially harmful to pregnant women and children.
  • Although your young people/family may not smoke shisha often, doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry risks, just 1 hour of shisha is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.
  • Shisha cafes aren’t the only places your young people can go to socialise, and some premises have been found to have poor hygiene levels, including dirty preparation areas, shared mouthpieces and even dangerous set-ups making it a potentially unsafe environment for them to be in.

Download the resources below to help share the messages. Printed copies can be obtained by contacting [email protected].


Sophie Squire

Account Executive

0114 221 0378 Email Sophie Squire