KARACHI: “I smoke sheesha occasionally with friends,” says Zubair Ahmed.

“I know that it is very strong, stronger than a regular cigarette … but the pleasant flavour and taste let me forget that. And I can smoke it for a long time,” he adds.

“There are all kinds of fruity flavours on offer … apple, grape, etc, which makes sheesha more advanced than the hookah, which was just gurh and tobacco. And the nicotine is filtered through water. I know it can be hazardous like those menthol cigarettes but like I said, I don’t do it regularly,” he explains.

Yasmin Hussain, meanwhile, says that she just doesn’t get why everyone is against sheesha. “I don’t understand the ban on it. It can’t be religion, because sheesha still remains a trend in other Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” she argues.

“I get all kinds of looks and glares of disapproval from people who notice me smoking sheesha with my friends at restaurants. I know it is because I am a girl. What, haven’t they seen females smoke before? I just stare back and blow the smoke in their faces,” says the defiant young woman.

“Apple, berry, mint, strawberry, lemon … you name it and we have it. No, it doesn’t have any narcotics or any other addictive ingredient … only some flavoured tobacco,” says the manager of a Syrian/Middle Eastern food restaurant in Clifton, who declined giving his name.

“Because of the tobacco, we don’t even allow anyone under 18 years of age to smoke sheesha. But the parents allow them themselves and we can’t do much about this,” he says.

The rate for a sheesha at his restaurant is Rs350. “We only refill coal so one can smoke for hours if one wants to,” he explains.

The restaurant has seen many raids but this hasn’t affected their business. “They come and confiscate all our sheesha from here but also return them after a couple of days when our owner uses his contacts among the high-ups,” the manager smiles.

At Zamzama, a popular sheesha joint called Café Sheesha now goes by the name of Café Steak Grill though one can still find a small board with the old name on one side of the new one. “Well, when putting up the new board we took off the main old board but forgot the small one on the side. We don’t serve sheesha here anymore. The Cantonment Board Clifton carried out a raid here and confiscated all our sheesha,” says Yasir Ali Raja the manager at the place, which now wears a deserted look.

“Of course, we are abiding by the law now but really I don’t know what the deal with sheesha is here except that it is much stronger than smoking cigarettes. I agree that smoking sheesha one time is equivalent to smoking 20 packs of cigarettes in one go but if the ban is due to health reasons then they should also impose a ban on cigarette smoking and its sales,” he reasons.

“There may be all kinds of warnings printed on cigarette packs but the truth is that the government can’t really ban cigarettes as they are a major tax source. Therefore, it is easier to crack down on us poor shopkeepers and restaurants,” complains another sheesha bar owner in Saddar.

Dr Adnan Baig, a pulmonologist, clearly explains the health hazards of smoking sheesha. “Smoking is always hazardous. It reduces the oxygen level in your blood, lacing the haemoglobin with carbon monoxide. And this carbon monoxide level increases due to burning tobacco on charcoal,” the doctor points out. “Carbon is really damaging to the human body,” he adds.

“Then the dynamics of sheesha itself is a problem. You don’t take in as much nicotine or carbon when puffing on a cigarette as you do when smoking through a pipe that has a much wider diameter. And then you also smoke sheesha for a longer duration than a cigarette,” he explains.

“Smoking in the civilised world is anyway banned from public places as besides harming oneself you also harm non-smokers near you. Can you imagine how much the dense sheesha smoke hurts the poor people, especially children, around you? Why should they have to suffer?” he asks.

Meanwhile, Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui says that the people smoking sheesha and those marketing it should themselves realise its bad effects. “Sheesha is far more dangerous than plain smoking. These flavours that they seem to enjoy so much are actually all a concoction of hazardous chemicals. So our first step is to appeal to the people to stop it for the good of the youth. There are several awareness campaigns under way through the media, etc, for this, and we have also organised a few raids on the city’s main sheesha parlours,” he says.

When informed that some sheesha parlours like the one in Clifton claims they can get the confiscated sheesha back after a while, the commissioner says that they have ways of putting an end to this. He adds: “I see. Then I guess the next time we confiscate sheesha, we will have to hold a public burning of all that we have confiscated.”

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