"Our age group are doing shisha all the time."
Do you smoke shisha? Do your friends? The popularity of shisha has boomed across the UK over recent years especially amongst young British Asians. Many can’t get enough of the intoxicating puff of smoke, the smell of burning coals, and the sound of bubbling water on a weekly or even daily basis.
Double apple, pineapple, watermelon and grape, strawberry, bubblegum or mint, shisha really does have something for everyone. And with the rise of shisha houses across the UK, you really don’t have to look too far in search of your favourite pastime. But why is shisha smoking among British Asians so popular today? DESIblitz went in search to find out.
A night out, a birthday party or any social gathering of friends is certain to result in burning the coals and bringing out a hookah. Big enough to be shared among several people, shisha is a great communal interaction and suits any group size or dynamic.
Made up of an ornate style hookah or water pipe and burning coals, shisha combines century old traditions with the modern day. But for those novices to the exotic practice, what is shisha exactly?
Shisha consists of vaporised flavoured smoke or tobacco inside a traditional hookah. The vapour or smoke is passed through a glass-based body at the bottom of the hookah before it is inhaled and exhaled through a handheld pipe.
There are some disputes of the true origin of the first hookah. It is originally thought to have been invented in Persia before being taken and adapted by other cultures and lands. It’s introduction into India came during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar I in the late 1500’s AD.
Akbar’s physician, Hakim Abu’l Fath Gilani, is thought to have adopted the Persian invention and built a similar glass body and encouraged his Emperor to take up smoking. Eventually, it became popular pastime and the hookah was largely regarded as a status symbol for the wealthy Indian aristocracy and gentry.
Of course today in many parts of the world, hookah smoking has become a common everyday practice. In the Middle East and North Africa in particular, shisha forms a major aspect of local culture and traditions. It is considered a means of interaction within communities and encourages social engagement and can be found in some shape or form on every street corner.
Spreading even further, shisha has also become a common sight in the UK, with British Asians taking up the activity lovingly. With shisha smoking now in vogue, the number of shisha houses across the major cities in Britain have also boomed.
Manchester’s Wilmslow Road is now rivalling London’s Arab influenced Edgware Road for its shisha houses and hangouts. Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham have also followed suit. People flock to these cafes and soirees after a long day at work and spend their evenings relaxing and chatting to friends until late into the might.
Abdus aged 30, is a young entrepreneur who owns a number of shisha houses across the UK, including Hookahs on Moseley Road in Birmingham. Seeing a gap in the British Asian market, he opened his first shisha house at the age of 22. For him, the shisha business was too good an opportunity to miss.
Catering to a specific Asian community that doesn’t drink alcohol or visit nightclubs, his establishment offers an oasis of relaxing hookahs, milkshakes and desserts. Opening at 5pm every evening, it stays open until the early hours.
But as with any new trend there will inevitably be some kind of drawback. Recently, shisha has become prime news for its suspect health concerns.
Many believe that shisha smoking is worse than cigarettes and can cause more damage to the body. There have been countless medical claims that indicate that one shisha contains 100-200 times the volume of smoke than that inhaled by a single cigarette.
Smoking and cigarettes are already known causes of life-threatening diseases like lung cancer and heart disease, and many have chosen to add shisha to the fatal list. Notably though, shisha uses a natural tobacco which doesn’t contain any of the harmful chemicals that cigarettes do.
However, despite all this, many argue that there have been no quantified reports on the actual affects that shisha can have on the body. So who do we believe?
Abdus firmly believes it is up to the individual:
“Anything you smoke can’t be good for you. But the research has been flawed over the years. There is no accurate research on how bad it is and what the alternatives are, how to improve it. Nothing in-depth has been told.”
As with any new activity, shisha smoking comes down to a matter of choice. Many British Asians have bought into the hype while others have agreed to disagree:
“I don’t like it. It got me dizzy. I didn’t like the taste and I don’t like the feeling after. I get sick,” says 24-year-old Mohsin.
“In the long run it’s bad for you. Our age group and generation are doing shisha all the time. They will feel the consequences in 10 years time,” he adds.
For good or bad, shisha has definitely become a growing phenomenon across the West. The UK has quickly become home to a growing number of hotspot shisha retreats that the wider public just can’t get enough of.
For British Asians in particular, shisha has truly become a can’t miss activity, with its flavourful fumes inside an atmospheric setting. But whether or not the practice is for you, what is evident is that these burning hookahs won’t be dying out any time soon.