Smoking Shisha in Qatar
By Yousra Samir
Also see Shisha Smoking
It's popular, and it's getting more popular, but just how bad for you is it?
Have you ever been to smoke shisha? The fruity aromas wafting in the air, the sound of the water bubbling as shisha is drawn through the pipe, people talking, laughing and generally looking relaxed. It is an enjoyable past time for many people around the Middle East, not least Qatar.
People have been smoking shisha around the Middle East and India for over four centuries. From shisha to narghile, hookah to water tobacco and hubbly bubbly, and argeela in Qatar, the habit has many names.
Many Qatari men like to go out with friends in the evening to smoke shisha in cafes and restaurants. More recently, even Qatari women have started venturing out to smoke shisha in public, despite the fact that it is still socially and culturally frowned upon.
Why do people smoke shisha?
I find it very relaxing at most times. I like smoking shisha mainly because of the different fruity flavors and the feeling it gives when you blow away all the smoke.
Reem: Qatar University Student
Shisha pipes at Al Dana Restaurant in Souq Waqif.
Most people like to smoke shisha because it helps them to unwind and relax, and some claim that it gives them a high that you cannot get from cigarettes. It's also a very social activity; it brings friends and family together. Nor do you have to be a cigarette smoker to smoke shisha.
Smoking shisha originally became popular with expats, since in the past there were no bars, so expats went out to smoke shisha instead. There are a variety of flavors, the most popular being mint, grape, apple and strawberry.
More Socially Acceptable
Smoking shisha in many countries, including Qatar, is more socially acceptable than smoking cigarettes in public. It is an activity which even women indulge in; husbands and wives go out together to smoke shisha and families enjoy shisha with their meals at restaurants.
A Persian woman smoking Shisha in the 1850's.
And while it may not be entirely acceptable for Qatari women to smoke in public, it's place in Middle East culture does mean it has gained an acceptability in recent culture.
"We find old married women smoking shisha all over the Middle East, even with their husbands and families, but not cigarettes," said Reem.
We find old married women smoking shisha all over the Middle East
It's also a habit enjoyed by people who would never touch cigarettes. Qatar university student, Ayesha, told us:
"Although my parents don't like me smoking anything, they are okay with shisha. It's more socially acceptable and I would say with Arabs it is a part of our culture because lots of people smoke it, from young adults to my parents' friends and their parents, so maybe that's why it's seen as more socially acceptable."
However, many Qatari men frown upon its use by woman - or at least by Qatari women.
"It's okay for Lebanese women ...But not for Qatari women."
"It's okay for Lebanese women to smoke Shisha," one told me. "But not for Qatari women."
Is shisha bad for my health?
"It's definitely bad for health. I've heard a lot of my friends comparing one shisha to twenty cigarettes or more!"
Hadi, Qatar Resident.
Against a background of a global crackdown on smoking and even smokers, shisha in recent years has brought up a health debate over whether or not it is harmful, and if it is as harmful as or even more harmful than smoking cigarettes.
It is hard to know which sources to trust, with some saying shisha is 100 times worse than cigarettes, and others saying it is 400 times more harmful! However, sites like the Sacred Narghile say that such claims are just rumours or a result of bogus science. With some of the more extreme claims made by anti-smoking groups (see Ash's anti-smoking claims and the Tobacco Analysis blog) they may have a point!
And what do people in Qatar think?
Ayesha expressed sceptism, stating:
"Everyone has different opinions about it. People have told me that smoking shisha is like smoking 60 cigarettes but I find that hard to believe because it is so much lighter and smoother."
Reem thought it might be more harmful than cigarettes, but pointed out:
"Shisha is usually a once in a while activity and not something you can do the whole day, as opposed to carrying around a pack of cigarettes the whole day."
Where can I go to smoke shisha?
All around Doha you will find little cafes which the locals call gahwas where people go to smoke shisha and drink coffee. They are usually the gathering place for young men, so if you are a woman, you may want to go with friends if you do not want unwanted attention.
The most popular places to go to smoke shisha are in the cafes and restaurants in Souq Al-Wagif where you can smoke shisha on terraces overlooking the souq, or in outside seating areas open to the souq itself. If you are looking for somewhere a little fancier, you may like Al Diwana Shisha Terrace in Sharq Village, or or Awtar Restaurant and Layali, which are both on Salwa Road.
The electronic cigarette has been taking the smoking world by storm in the West, and it looks like one electronic cigarette company is hoping to do the same in the Middle East. (Possibly) coming soon to Qatar: The E-Hookah!