Everything You Wanted to Know About Shisha Pipes

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Shisha, also known popularly as hookah or water pipe, is a single stemmed or multi-stemmed device that is used to either smoke or vaporize flavored tobacco called shisha. The smoke usually passes through water before it is inhaled, hence the term “water pipe”.

Smoking shisha has become extremely popular over the past few years, having spread across Europe via shisha cafes. It is now often experienced at home as people buy their own hookah pipes to enjoy at their own leisure.

Where did shisha/hookah smoking originate, what country, who started smoking it first, why did they smoke it?

There are contradicting rumors and theories related to the origins of shisha. According to the tales told by Cyril Elgood, an honorary physician to Persia’s King in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, shisha was the invention of an Indian physician known as Irfan Shaikh. Shaikh served Mughal Emperor Akbar I (AD 1542-1605). However, a Persian poet called Ahli Shirazi mentioned the word ‘ḡalyān’ in his text, thus dating shisha back to at least the time of Shah Tahmasp I.

Hence, it would perhaps be fair to accredit the invention of shisha to Abu’l-Fath Gilani for the introduction of shisha. However, it is important to note that there isn’t any physical evidence of the existence of shisha until the 1560s. Furthermore, since tobacco is said to have reached Persia in the 1600s, theories suggest that some other substance was smoked instead.

After Europe introduced tobacco to both Persia and India, it became commonplace amongst the noblemen in the country. Abu’l-Fath Gilani, who became a physician in the Mughal court, raised concerns regarding health once smoking tobacco. He then came up with a concept that saw smoke being passed through water to purify it. The idea became a reality once Akbar I himself took up smoking and later, it gained popularity on its way to becoming a symbol to represent the Indian aristocracy.

What did people first smoke in their pipes?

While there are conflicting reports regarding what was used to smoke shisha before the introduction of tobacco in the 1600s, once India finally discovered tobacco, it was the default product used in smoking shisha.

Even though tobacco was strictly denounced by Shah Abbas, the Safavid king of Persia during the 16th century, shisha consistently gained popularity towards the end of his reign throughout the country on nearly every level of society, with tobacco being the choice substance for smoking.

In Turkey, only a few types of tobacco were considered permissible to be used for smoking shisha. In fact, only dark tobacco which had been imported from Iran, was deemed to be of a quality that was acceptable by the shisha smokers in the country. This tobacco had to be washed several times to reduce the strong taste while oak charcoal was the only substance added to the tobacco.

Meanwhile, some of the smokers would add fruit such as sour cherries if only to enjoy the motion they created in the water. Also, some would consider adding rose oil or pomegranate juice to the shisha to enhance the flavor and hence, the experience.

What did the first hookah pipes look like? Who made them?

A hookah is often known by the term ‘nargile’ which means a coconut. This leads to the suggestion that early hookahs may have been made from coconut shells. Later on, hookahs were created from various materials such as brass, copper or even low-quality alloys.

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The shisha mainly consists of 4 pieces, namely the mouthpiece, the top of the shisha, the tube and the part of the pipe that gets filled with water. In Turkey, these elements were created primarily by craftsmen. The shishas were often produced from either silver or crystal while the mouthpiece of the shisha was generally created from amber of exceptional quality as in those days, people believed that amber did not carry germs.

Nowadays, shisha is created from aluminum and stainless steel. While leather and wire was often used for the hoses of the hookah, these materials have now been replaced with silicone rubber compounds.

Who was the first commercial producer of the pipes? Were they successful?

While there are no official records concerning the first commercial producers of pipes, history suggests that such an act took place in Persia during the early 1600s. While Shah Safi of Persia, who lived from 1629-1642, declared a complete ban on hookah, the income from shisha proved to be so lucrative, he reconsidered his decision and overturned the ban later on.

The use of shisha increased manyfold, and this rise in popularity saw a group of people who were penniless become professional tinkers of hookah pipes. In fact, this may be the first instance of a group of people producing hookahs as a profession. It seems that they achieved success in this regard as during the reign of Abbas II, the use of a shisha pipe had become an addiction in Persia. Creators of the hookah pipe often made the product from pottery, gourd or glass. The popularity of shisha reached unprecedented heights which led to glass reservoirs being imported from Venice to create them.

Who introduced them to the West? Where did they get popular first?

Hookahs are said to have been introduced to the West in the late 1600s or the early 1700s by immigrants from Persia as well as North Africa. Hookah was initially introduced to Turkey where it gained significant popularity amongst the population, to the point where smoking hookah every day in a lounge was a commonplace, everyday activity. In fact, Turkey is often said to be the country that perfected the creation of hookah.

From Turkey, hookah made its way to some of the powerhouses in Europe, which include London and Paris. There, it was fully embraced by the locals and hookah and alcohol lounges could easily be found, especially in dwellings mainly populated by Arabs. From Europe, hookah made its way to the U.S., where it was again readily accepted by the population.

In fact, the West has managed to adapt the hookah and assimilated it into its own culture. It might even be apt to say that a mini-Renaissance has taken place regarding shisha in Southern California where tobacco lounges and cafes are popping up to cater to the growing demand for shisha.

Who smokes them the most in Europe/UK? What demographics, what type of people?

The popularity of shisha in Europe can be shown by the fact that smoking a pipe is the most popular form of smoking, outperforming cigarettes and cigars. In fact, nearly 12% of all Europeans have stated that they have tried the hookah at least once in their life.

However, regular use of water pipes is not extremely high in Europe with only 1% of people admitting to smoking hookah consistently in their lives. The countries where usage of hookah is greater than twice the average of the EU include Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Cyprus and Lithuania. With 34% of citizens in Latvia claiming to have tried shisha, it tops the list of European countries in this regard. Hence, citizens of these countries smoke the most in the entire Europe. On the other hand, shisha is least consumed in Italy, Romania, Spain, Ireland, Malta and Portugal.

Smokers of shisha tend to be male and usually young, with the most common age group being 15-24 years. To a comparatively lesser extent, shisha was also enjoyed by males from the age group of 24-39 years. Most of the smokers have attained some higher education, which means they are either still being educated or have completed their studies. Shisha smokers in Europe tend to be from higher social circles as well. On the other hand, only 8% of women have tried hookah at least once in their lives.

It is also pertinent to note that those who smoke cigarettes aren’t the only ones to try shisha. In fact, there are many people who have smoked or tried shisha at least once yet have never smoked a cigarette in their entire lives.

Where were the first shisha cafes? Where are cafes now? Are they popular?

Hookah lounges originated in India, which is also home to the creation of hookah itself. As the popularity of hookah increased, it became common in various other countries such as Iran, Egypt and Turkey. These countries are home to some of the most famous and highest quality shisha in the world. The hookah lounge is based along the lines of traditional coffee houses found in the Middle East for centuries. While single pipe hookahs are more popular in such traditional settings, multi hose varieties are generally preferred in typical hookah lounges to lay emphasis on the sharing nature of the activity.

Hookah lounges can be found in most countries in the world, from India where it originated to even Switzerland. In Germany, hookah cafes are popular in various cities including Ruhr, Berlin and Cologne. On the other hand, such cafes are also gaining popularity in the Netherlands, particularly Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

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Maybe one of the most popular countries in Europe for shisha smokers is the United Kingdom, where shisha lounges are generally run by Egyptian, Lebanese or Pakistanis. The number of shisha cafes in the country rose to over 500 in 2012. This increase in cafes can be linked to a British ban back in 2007 regarding smoking in public places.

In the United States, hookah cafes started opening up decades ago, generally run by men of Middle Eastern descent. The first café to call itself the Hookah Lounge opened up in Las Vegas. Many hookah lounges in the U.S. also serve alcohol as well as oxygen bars. Generally, you have to be over 18 to be able to purchase a shisha in the United States.

What are the health worries about Shisha smoking?

Many people believe that smoking a shisha is safe and hence, an excellent alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, a study conducted back in 2005 by the World Health Organization showed that smoking shisha poses risk to the health of the smoker and is not a safe substitute for smoking a cigarette.

The average shisha session tends to last around 40 minutes if not longer, consisting of around 50-200 inhalations that can range from 0.15 liters of smoke to 0.5 liters of smoke. In fact, if a shisha session lasts an hour, the smoker may consume around 100-200 times the volume of smoke consumed from a cigarette.

On the other hand, since the composition of chemicals in shisha and cigarette is wholly different, the effects on the health will be dissimilar as well. This is due to the tobacco mixture present in shisha being heated to a temperature which is lower than that of tobacco in a cigarette that is burnt directly.

Despite the aforementioned difference, it is a widely accepted fact that consistent smoking of shisha will be harmful to the health of a smoker in the long term with shisha smokers being particularly susceptible to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is why tobacco-free alternatives are being tried in order to create a safer experience.

A research was conducted by Pakistani researchers in 2008 to determine the link between smoking and cancer. The study showed that the CEA levels of shisha smokers, which are indicative of cancer in a person, were pretty similar to the CEA levels of non-smokers and considerably lower than those of cigarette smokers. Despite this, the study also showed that extensive hookah smoking led to a substantial increase in the CEA levels.

Even once the smoke from a hookah passes through water, it manages to retain toxins that can cause cancer while the tobacco juice in the hookah can irritate the mouth and also result in oral cancer.

Meanwhile, even though this is not an established fact, it is believed that the smoke and tobacco in shisha can lead to clogged arteries which in turn can cause heart diseases. Furthermore, studies have shown that babies born to women who smoke shisha during their pregnancy often tend to have babies who weigh less after being born than those born to women who don’t smoke.

How do you put a shisha pipe together?

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Before you set up shisha, you need to clean thoroughly all the components and materials with water. If the pipe is clean, the smoke will be much more pleasurable and vice versa. Once you have cleaned the apparatus, select a glass vase and fill it with cold water while ensuring that the hookah stem is submerged around 2 inches in the water. You can even add ice if you want to. A cool temperature tends to enhance the flavor of the shisha, making the experience much more pleasurable.

Follow the above steps by inserting the hookah stem into the glass base. You will need to ensure that the fit is completely airtight because if it isn’t, the smoke produced will be diluted as well as thin and hence, won’t be as full of flavor.

Place a metal tray on top of the entire setup. This tray is present to catch any hot ember or tobacco which may fall down. Place the end of the hose into the relevant port while adding a rubber stopper on the stem of the hookah.

Once you set up the shisha pipe, take a few drags to ensure that you are getting enough air in your lungs and bubbles are being produced in the vase.

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Now, break the tobacco before adding it to the bowl. The tobacco needs to be sprinkled in order to assist airflow. The bowl should be filled to the top with tobacco. You can even mix various flavors of tobacco in order to create a more pleasurable experience.

After the bowl is filled with tobacco, use double wrap foil to cover the head of the bowl before poking holes in it to ensure a steady supply of air.

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Now, place the bowl on top of the shisha stem. Light a couple of pieces of coal before adding them to the bowl via tongs. Place the pipe in your mouth and inhale by sucking in which will allow you to taste the flavor of the tobacco.

What are the most popular flavours to smoke?

Some hookah flavors have transcended boundaries and are incredibly popular worldwide. You can find such flavors in huge demand in cafes and lounges across the world. Some of the more popular flavors include:

  • Al Fakher: Mint is probably the most popular flavor in the entire world which may be due to the fact that mint combines well with a myriad of other flavors to produce an aroma and taste unmatched by anything else. Al Fakher’s version of the mint flavor has been deemed to be the most sought after mint flavor. On the other hand, other flavors such as strawberry and vanilla have been in sufficient demand as well.
  • Tangiers: The demand for Tangiers is so high it is often difficult to finds its flavors. This is due to the fact that all their flavors are some of the best in the market with cane mint and orange soda taking the top spots. While these flavors may require a different bowl, the inconvenience is worth it.
  • Fumari: While it may take some getting used to in order to smoke Fumari, the brand has some of the juiciest and hence, extremely flavorsome. There are a wide variety of flavors available with some being extremely unique such as white gummi bear and blueberry
  • Starbuzz hookah: While Starbuzz flavors may not actually give you a buzz, they are extremely popular and taste great as well, especially if the smoker prefers sweet flavors. Some of their most popular concoctions include white grape and blue mist, which is an all time favorite.

What else can I smoke?

As always, there are a variety of alternatives you can select if you believe smoking regular shisha is not your thing. You may consider smoking molasses, which is a healthier version of the shisha since it does not contain tobacco. Of course, the nicotine buzz generated by regular shisha won’t be present if you smoke molasses due to the absence of tobacco. Furthermore, the smoke produced is comparatively diluted which may affect the flavor as well. On the other hand, herbal molasses are not as adverse for your health as tobacco is.

What about e-shisha? How does it work and who makes them?

The newest craze that is sweeping the world is the advent of e-shisha. They have attained massive popularity amongst the younger generation mainly due to them being advertised as containing the flavor of shisha without any of the harmful side effects.

An e-shisha pen is an electronic instrument which is operated by a battery; similar to an electronic cigarette. An atomizer present in the device heats up the liquid which can be inhaled after it turns to smoke. Disposable as well as reusable devices are available. While e-shisha is free from cancer causing chemicals and harmful metals, some of the pens do contain nicotine which may still cause health issues. However, there haven’t been any conclusive studies conducted on this matter.

There are a variety of companies that manufacture e-shishas and there’s a great range available here at The Shisha Shop.

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