Hookah pipe bars and shisha festivals are popping up all over Mzansi. The attraction, they say, is that the habit is healthier than smoking cigarettes. But is it? Writes Boitumelo Kgobotlo
The hubbly lifestyle has made the idea of cigarette smoking among youth and adults a dull affair.
According to research, the hookah pipe is the invention of Persian physician Hakim Abu’l-Fath back in the 16th century in India. He was concerned about the dangers of tobacco and thought that perhaps it should be filtered through water so it could be purified.
It only made its debut in southern Africa in the 1990s. Hookahs vary in size, shape and style. The instrument consists of a water container with a smoke chamber, a bowl, a pipe and a hose.
Flavoured tobacco is placed inside the head and covered with pierced foil. Lit charcoal is placed on top.
Smoking is typically done in groups, with the same mouthpiece passed from person to person.
Serious smokers of the pipe says it’s an art and the smoke shouldn’t be inhaled. Others insist that it needs to be taken in deeply to be appreciated. Many claim it’s not addictive, but many users admit that it’s the first craving they have in the morning.
Any lit affair will see several of these instruments around the venue – with a sweet, fruity fragrance lingering in the air.
It’s no longer reserved only for noblemen to enjoy as bars designed for the lifestyle are the new trend and festivals in its name were all the rage over the festive period.
Sgomza Hookah Lifestyle venue in Mohlakeng on the West Rand is a popular shisha joint and it’s packed even during the week.
Owner of the joint Kgomotso Masebe says he opened it in June 2016 after resigning from his job as a branch administrator.
He renovated a garage at his home – refurbishing old tyres to be used as seats. There are designated spots where you can hire a pipe of your choice and buy coal and flavour.
Popular flavours are pan raas, mint cream, ghost mint and apple from the Afzal and Amanen range.
“I’ve always loved smoking hubbly and I saw a gap in the market, so I took time to plan the whole process until I was ready to quit my job. I noticed that this was an opportunity for me to come up with something different and that was the idea of selling hookahs, flavours and all accessories needed for the pipe. I also had to create a place where people can just come an enjoy smoking,” he says.
The place, decorated with different branded hubblies of various shapes and materials aattracts various characters, from teachers to high-end business people. He explains that the most famous instruments among conoisseurs are Chinese pipes, but they are notoriously known to break easily.
Egyptian pipes are made from stainless steel and German pipes are wellknown for their beautiful shapes and vase bases.
“Apart from the shapes and the material used to make these hookahs, there is really not much of a difference. They operate the same way, it is just a matter of preference because the real thing that matters is the flavour of your choice. By the way, it is not advisable to smoke different flavours using one hookah pipe,” he says.
Balbek Labanese Restaurant and Shisha in Melville is owned by Arab national Kassem “Costa” Al Sahili. A luxurious spot that doesn’t allow anyone under the age of 18, it sells delicious grub, from salads to burgers.
Al Sahili says the Argileh, as the hookah is called in his home country, was usually smoked by men discussing business, but more people are now enjoying the lifestyle. His patrons are allowed to smoke while eating and he hires out a pipe with two heads filled with flavour together with coal for R70.
“We are hubbly enthusiasts, so we are willing to spend more than the average individual. We also use one-pipe hookahs as it gives a better smoking experience than multi-piped Shisha,” says Al Sahili. He says he has been smoking the water pipe since 1999 and has never encountered any health issues with it.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), society is falling into a trap because of three myths – that hubbly is less harmful than cigarettes, is not addictive, and that its smoke contains fewer toxins.
Cansa reports that hubbly smokers typically spend 20-80 minutes a session on a pipe, which is about 20 to 200 puffs, while a cigarette smoker spends about five to eight minutes smoking – which typically equals eight to 12 puffs. The water doesn’t purify the nicotine – a water pipe smoker can take in nicotine equivalent to 10 cigarretes with just one pipe.
“The ‘tar’ in tobacco smoke causes cancer. The smoke produced in a typical water pipe smoking session can contain about 36 times more tar and about eight times more carbon monoxide than the smoke from a single cigarette,” indicates the report.
Pregnant women are advised not to smoke hubblies as the carbon monoxide will stunt the growth of the foetus. Other side effects include lung infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchitis, and increased risk of heart conditions.