Habit picks up during holy fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims break their dawn-to-dusk fast with meal followed by night outings.
The water pipe is back in fashion, creating a culture among stubborn smokers who are emotionally attached to the habit without concern to its health hazards and government efforts to ban smoking in public. Also known as shisha, arghila, hookah, nargile or hubbly bubbly, the water pipe created an aura around the user who perceive it as part of social routine, a fashion statement or a hip trend.
“It is part of our daily routine and if we don’t go out to a café we stay home and smoke the hookah,” boasted Amman jeweller Maher Qandah, 49.
“I personally do not smoke cigarettes but I love having the pipe in my hand while playing cards or
watching a soccer match on TV,” Qandah told The Arab Weekly.
He, however, admitted, “We all know that it is an unhealthy habit but the fact that it is a habit hard to give up on.”
The habit picks up during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims break their dawn-to-dusk fast with a meal followed by night outings. The water pipe gatherings are among the most popular.
In normal days, Jordanians smoke the water pipe at home, in wedding parties, restaurants and public parks. Break time for many Amman shop owners means water pipe with a cup of tea, while for some motorists a mini-water pipe is a must to enjoy smoking in the car.
A ban on smoking in public places imposed in 2014 drew an outcry by Jordanians, forcing the Ministry of Health to retract.
Capitalising on water pipe popularity and addiction, several Jordanian companies sprouted in the last few years, providing water pipe delivery to homes and businesses. According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2014, the West Bank recorded the highest number of smokers who tried at least one tobacco product with 34.6% of an estimated population of 2.7 million. Of the total, 47.5% are boys and 24.7% are girls under the age of 18. The rest are of various age groups.
Jordan came second with 24.2% overall (31.6% boys and 15.8% girls), while Egypt followed with 13.6% overall, (18.1% boys and 8.2% girls), according to the survey, a global standard for systematically monitoring youth tobacco use established by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doa Mansour, a heavy hookah user, said smoking the water pipe is not just “a tradition”. It became more of a social habit.
“Instead of meeting over dinner, we meet over hookah and enjoy the mood that it gives. Sometimes we overdo it and stay for hours in a café but it is fun and the latest hip [style] in Amman,” the 23-year-old woman told The Arab Weekly.
This “hip”, according to Mansour, does not come cheap. A hookah in a café costs around $8-$9.
According to the Tobacco Atlas, a comprehensive report produced by the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation, more than 2,200 Jordanians die from tobacco- caused diseases every year compared to 50,000 Egyptians and more than 4,000 in Lebanon, 4,700 in Saudi Arabia and 700 in Kuwait.
The report estimates hookah smoking by women in the United Arab Emirates at 23%, compared to 52% in Saudi Arabia in 2011.
Water pipes come in various shapes, styles, patterns, sizes and flavours. It also carries different names and titles.
“Those who smoke hookah have one at home and whenever my friends come to my house they usually bring their mini hookah with them just in case. It is like a mobile phone: ‘Never leave home without it’,” Mansour said.
There is no doubt that the invention of the Maassel, the molassessoaked smoking tobacco, with various flavours contributed to the spread of the habit across international borders.
“My favourite Maassel is a mix of watermelon and mint as it gives the feeling of summer days but there are many other flavours such as green apple, strawberry, cinnamon, cappuccino and even gum,” Mansour added.
“Nowadays, Maassel has more flavours than ice cream.”
According to Smoking Cessation Clinic at King Hussein Cancer Centre in Amman, approximately 60% of Jordanian smokers die from tobacco- related diseases.
In 2014, Jordan decided not to issue or renew licences of cafés that offer the hookah in response to a demand by the Ministry of Health. The move created uproar, forcing the ministry to retract but alter some regulations.
Mazen Farajeen, spokesman for the Greater Amman Municipality, said that limiting the closing time for cafés is being considered.
“The new regulations are under study as it will give more organisational aspects to the cafés and more peace of mind to inhabitants who live near these cafés,” Farajeen told The Arab Weekly.
The suggested regulations impose 11pm as the closing time in winter and midnight in the summer but will exclude those that are on the main streets. Currently, there is no mandated closing time.
In 2009, the Public Health Law, which prohibits smoking in public places, was enforced in the kingdom’s shopping malls and fast-food restaurants followed by a cabinet decision prohibiting smoking in ministries and public institutions in 2010.
Dr Maissoune Hajeer, nephrology specialist at the King Hussein Cancer Centre, said the danger brought to humans by the hookah is far greater than smoking cigarettes.
“People can get hooked on hookah easily for many reasons such as the nicotine, the sound of the bubbles, the flavours and the long session it accompanies,” Hajeer told The Arab Weekly.
She further explained, “There are toxins coming out from the burning charcoal and the tobacco itself, thus affecting most the respiratory and cardiovascular systems”.
“It is beyond my understanding why well-educated people who are aware of the health risk keep smoking,” she added.
Although Jordan’s Ministry of Health has a clear policy regarding smoking, its repeated warnings about this life-threatening habit have fallen on deaf ears. Ministry spokesman Hatem Azraii stressed that “people should understand the danger of smoking, so they can quit this bad habit”.
“We have launched many antismoking campaigns but at the end it is the person himself who should take the initiative,” Azraii told The Arab Weekly. The Arab WeeklyBy: Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.