COVID-19 Closures Force MENA Smokers to Reconsider the Future of Shisha

Popular throughout the MENA, the threat of coronavirus and longstanding health concerns leave shisha bars facing an uncertain future.

  • By webmaster | June 13, 2020,3:51 pm
Shisha Cafe

Governments across the MENA region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE, have shut down shisha cafes as they attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. 

In Europe, where shisha bars are also closed due to government-mandated shutdowns, a number continued to operate illegally. Government officials in both Germany and the United Kingdom caught out illegal shisha cafe operators when health authorities identified the cafes as the source of new coronavirus outbreaks. 

Earlier this month in the town of Gottingen in Lower Saxony, 36 people contracted coronavirus after visiting an illegally operated shisha cafe. A further 310 entered quarantine as a result of contact with those infected.

Perfect for spreading the virus 

The communal nature of shisha, with the pipe being passed among groups, makes it a natural conduit for coronavirus. Health experts have suggested that the threat is heightened by the fact that only the mouthpiece is changed between use by one group of customers and the next. 

The pipe and base remain the same between customers, furthering the risk of the virus spreading via particles from a contaminated user. The details of the spread of coronavirus during shisha use remain slightly unclear and further research is needed to understand in precise detail how the device contributes to the spread of the virus. Doctors remain sure, however, that the device is susceptible to spreading the virus. 

Health experts have also suggested that the large exhalations of smoke clouds may also contain virus particles with the risk being particularly high when smoking in an enclosed space. The bouts of coughing that often accompany shisha smoking present a further risk. 

Established health concerns 

The case against reopening shisha bars is being expanded by some to include a discussion of the health impacts of smoking shisha.

Prior to COVID-19 concern was growing over the health impacts of shisha with studies showing that smoking shisha for one hour can be as harmful as smoking 100 cigarettes. The practice has also been linked to increased rates of diabetes and obesity. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has previously stated that smokers are more likely to suffer from severe forms of coronavirus if they fall ill. As a result of the impact of smoking on the lungs, smokers are unable to fight the virus as effectively as non-smokers. 

Despite the health concerns, the number of daily shisha smokers remained high prior to COVID-19.  Arab News estimates there are 100 million daily smokers with 15% of 13-15 year olds in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen smoking shisha. 

The use of charcoal for heating shisha is a further cause for concern as it releases carbon monoxide. In enclosed bars and spaces this can lead to poisoning of staff and patrons. Last year, a shisha cafe in Tooting, in South London, was forced to close after the residents in the flats above, including young children, suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when the colorless and odorless gas enters the bloodstream. As a result of mixing with haemoglobin, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen and this causes the body’s cells and tissues to die.

Fortunately, all those in Tooting recovered, but the incident further highlights the risks of shisha. As coronavirus restrictions begin to ease and cafes reopen, there is space for broader discussions about the future of shisha cafes.  

Related Articles

Ap Jemaa El Fna
MENA Tourism After Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a crisis in the global tourism industry with border closures and lockdowns resulting in global air traffic falling 60.8% in April year-on-year. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is suggesting the pandemic could cost the airline industry $314 billion.  In 2018, international arrivals to MENA destinations grew by 10% and […]

Moorish Temple Society of America march in USA
What is the Moorish Science Temple of America?

Last week, members of the Moorish Science Temple of America were once again in the news as they joined protests in the United States, marching against systemic racism and the murder of George Floyd.  The group, identifiable by their bright Tarboosh (fez hats) and the large Moroccan flags they carry, has a complex history.   Founded […]

Huda Shaarawi Google Doodle
Google Honors Egyptian Feminist Pioneer Huda Sharawi

Born in Minya in 1879 to an upper class family, Huda Sharawi was a lifelong advocate for women’s rights. From an early age she opposed the restrictions imposed on women and began to agitate for change. 

Faiza Guene
French-Algerian Author Faiza Guene’s Identity, Hope, and Despair

Born to Algerian parents, Faiza Guene grew up in the suburbs on the outskirts of Paris. She began writing as an adolescent and by the age of 19 had penned a best-selling novel.