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Under fire for smoking the ‘hookah’

With a new law in force, smokers of the water pipe, have been banned from enjoying this traditional pastime in Turkey’s cafes, bars and restaurants.

JUST like the centuries-old coffee tradition the nargileh, or water pipe, is a mainstay of Turkish culture but authorities are clamping down on this ancient social ritual that health experts say is as harmful to health as smoking regular cigarettes.

Turkish authorities are concerned as many students aged between 15 and 24 are hooked on this favourite pastime.

Fans of the water pipe, also known as a hookah or shisha, can no longer get their fix in cafes, bars and restaurants after a law banning smoking from closed public spaces came into force in January.

This new measure is a sign that the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) means business in its crackdown on smoking in a country where almost a third of its adult population puff away.

It also wants to stop the worrying trend among teens still in school, who have picked up the habit.

In 2009, authorities banned smoking in public places and slapped taxes on both alcohol and tobacco products.

The tax imposed on cigarettes rose by a staggering 195% between 2005 and 2011. This resulted in a 15% drop in cigarette sales.

Many hookah cafe operators soon found ways around the ban, taunting authorities by serving students and their young customers on outside terraces, but sheltered from the elements by bay windows.


Turkish tradition: Students smoking the hookah at a cafe while playing tavla in Ankara.
This worrying trend especially among the younger generation is of concern to the authorities. — AFP

Fruity flavours

Cafe managers also changed their menus to offer more fruity mixes with a lower tobacco content that won over even Istanbul’s more traditional smoking dens and caught on with students and tourists.

But this year’s measure is more severe and little appreciated by nargilehfans in the downtown Kizilay neighbourhood in the heart of the Turkey’s capital, Ankara.

“Before 2009, we sold 300 water pipes daily.

“Now we sell about 50 pipes and the new law will soon bring down our business,” laments Alican Ali, a waiter at an outlet called the Tombeki cafe.

On the cafe’s terrace, students — both girls and boys — pull on their pipes and chat over tea or coffee, or a game of tavla, the Turkish backgammon. A smell of cinnamon, apricot and apple tobacco fills the air.

Popular in much of the Middle East and parts of Asia, the water pipe goes by a number of names including the widely-used term hookah in India and Pakistan, and shisha in Egypt, derived from hashish, for which the pipe was originally used.

Essentially a male pastime, the nargileh has enjoyed a revival among young people in Turkey in recent years and is now smoked by both men and women.

In 2010, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) of 14 countries, supported by the World Health Organisation, found that most of Turkey’shookah smokers were aged between 15 and 24.

Keen to cash in on the trend, a crop of specialist websites now offer tobacco flavours ranging from cappuccino to watermelon, and funky-coloured bases and hoses to personalise a pipe.

Building friendships

The hookah is prepared by filling the base with water, crumbling tobacco of choice into a bowl and lighting charcoal in a ritual intrinsically linked to the Turkish culture. People can then while away the hours, inhaling at leisure.

But with the new law forcing them outside into the cold or under the scorching sun to smoke, pipe lovers fear the experience will not be the same.

”It will be difficult to stand in the cold or in the sun for two hours. With a cigarette, you can take a puff whenever you like, but the hookah needs preparation, time and a space, which gives it a very special character,” says a bartender who declined to be named.

“The nargileh is about conviviality and friendship in a world where we are forced to live at 100 miles an hour.”

At the next table, two students are quietly sipping their tea with a hookah by their side.

“I am well aware that it is bad for health but it is not like smoking,” says 23-year-old Elif Karadele, who uses the water pipe every day.

This is exactly the misconception that health specialists take issue with: Fruity it may be, but the tobacco in the nargileh is just as damaging to health as regular smoking, if not more, doctors have warned.

According to findings from the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, an hour-long session with a nargileh is the equivalent of inhaling between 100 and 200 cigarettes.

More toxins

The bigger intake of breath needed to inhale from a water pipe meanshookah users may absorb higher concentrations of toxins.

”The hookah flavours are even more dangerous since smokers think they are inhaling something harmless,” specialist Cengizhan Elmas warns.

”Even if there is little tobacco, people inhale toxic substances such as carbon monoxide and heavy metals present in the charcoal used to heat the pipe,” he adds.

Smoking a shisha can cause the same kinds of diseases as cigarettes, including oral and lung cancers, and decrease fertility.

Tombeki cafe regular Nuri Aydin says he has no intention of giving up the pipe.

“I come here three or four times a week. It is a passion,” says the 24-year-old.

”I saw my father and grandfather smoking and I am keeping up the tradition. They should let us do it!” — Relaxnews


The STAR Online Education Sunday 03/03/2013

Tags: smoking
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