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According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, in 2014­­–15, 14.5 per cent of adults over 18 years old were smoking daily (2.6 million adults); a decrease from the 16.1 per cent that we saw in 2011–12. Looking at the trend over the past two decades, statistics show a general decrease in daily smokers. However, there are other forms of smoking which are now quite common, including shisha and vaping, no doubt popularised by places like shisha joints.

What’s in a cigarette?

“There is more in a cigarette than addiction, poison, pollution, disease and hypocrisy.” – K.H. Ginzel

Tobacco is a plant whose leaves are harvested, cured and dried for use in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and even flavoured shisha tobacco. That’s right it’s not actually grape juice you’re inhaling from that shisha pipe. Tobacco contains nicotine, a stimulant. When you light a cigarette, nicotine from the tobacco leaf is inhaled in the smoke. Nicotine is highly addictive and is the reason people get hooked to smoking. Once inhaled through the lungs, it enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain within 10 seconds of inhalation. Interestingly, your risk of developing a dependence following exposure to cigarettes is greater compared to the initial use of alcohol, cocaine or marijuana.

There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When they burn, they create more than 7000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to be cancer-causing, and many more known to be toxic. Here is a list of a few things found in tobacco smoke:

  • Acetone –nail polish remover
  • Ammonia – toilet cleaner
  • Arsenic – rat poison
  • Butane – lighter fluid
  • Carbon monoxide – car exhaust fumes
  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
  • Hydrogen cyanide – poison
  • Lead – commonly used in batteries
  • Methanol – rocket fuel
  • Nicotine – derived from tobacco plant and commonly used as a pesticide
  • Tar- for making roads
  • Toluene – paint manufacturing

This brew of poisons invades the insides of the smoker as well as non-smokers (through second-hand smoking), affecting adults and children—even children in utero. Studies have repeatedly shown that smoking can cause and/or increase the risks of emphysema, various cancers including tongue, throat, oesophageal and lung cancers, heart disease, diabetes, strokes and affects foetal growth during pregnancy.

Shisha

Shisha, narghile, ghelyoon, hookah… Call it what you want—is a form of waterpipe smoking and has steadily been growing in popularity amongst young people. Many are attracted to the dimly lit social set up, air filled with fruit-scented smoke.

Waterpipe smoking is believed to have originated in medieval India and later spread to the Middle East, Asia and then, well… everywhere else. Shisha instruments include a bowl which holds the tobacco and charcoal, a plate which acts as an ashtray, a body which is a hollow tube with a gasket with an opening for the hose, a tube connected to the water jar. When smoke from the tobacco passes through the jar, it gains moisture and becomes cooler before reaching the hose where it is drawn through a mouthpiece.

A shisha instrument. Image source: https://www.fda.gov

In a ‘shisha session’, a person smokes tobacco, usually sweetened with fruit or sugar molasses, making the smoke more aromatic than your typical cigarette smoke. Popular flavours include apple, grape, mint, coconut etc. Shisha tobacco contains cigarette tobacco, so much like cigarettes, it contains the “cocktail of death” we just went through.

The common misconception with shisha smoking is that because you are filtering the smoke through the water, it is safer. Hell no sister, sorry to burst your bubble. Shisha smokers are at a risk of the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smokers. In fact, the smoker ends up inhaling more smoke over a longer period when compared to cigarette smoking. There is also increased carbon monoxide and nicotine exposure. Some have even suggested that a single puff of shisha may be equivalent to generating the smoke from smoking a whole cigarette.  The average shisha session lasts an hour and, in this time, you can inhale the same amount of smoke similar to 100 ciggies. Read that again for emphasis.

Some nicotine and toxins are filtered through the water, but shisha smoking is still addictive. So really, it could even be worse than smoking cigarettes if smoked frequently enough. Studies have reported a decreased lung function, increased airway resistance, lung inflammation and oxidative stress after water pipe smoking. A review of the literature also reinforces waterpipe smoking and an increased risk of lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, haemodynamic changes (higher heart rate, vasoconstriction), and the elevation of harmful and cancer causing chemicals in the body. Smoke shisha at your own discretion, but this research is enough to leave me trembling in my boots.

Vaping

E-cigarettes AKA vape pens and vape are again another popular fad that first started because people thought it was a ‘safer’ form of smoking or think that it is helpful to stop cigarette smoking. Unlike cigarettes, e-ciggs are battery operated and require a heating element to heat liquid from a refillable cartridge, releasing a vapour (hence ‘vaping’) which is chock-full of chemicals.

These cartridges of liquid may or may not contain nicotine but will usually also contain a base (usually propylene glycol) and mixed with other flavourings, colourings and chemicals such as formaldehydes. Many of the chemicals used for flavourings and such are not tested—hence their effects in the body are not known. The type and concentrations of toxic chemicals vary by brand, device and frequency of use. As a result, there is limited research on their long-term health risks. Dangers of vaping include flammable lithium batteries and ingestion of the e-liquid. The NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) have released a statement concluding the fact that there is currently limited or insufficient evidence to support claims that vaping is safe.

Whether your choice of poison is cigarettes, shisha or vaping—as soon as you stop smoking, your body begins to repair itself and heal. Below is a timeline outlining these improvements:

After 1 hour – Heart rate and blood pressure begin to return to normal—improving circulation.

After 12 hours – Body removes excess carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas which prevents oxygen from entering blood—improving oxygen levels.

After 1 day – Risk of heart disease decreases.

After 2 days – Nerve endings start to heal—improved sense of smell and taste.

After 1 month – Improved lung function, less coughing, shortness of breath.

After 1 year – Risk for coronary heart disease decreases by half.

After 5 years – Arteries, blood vessels can widen again, less chance of blood clots and risk of stroke drops.

After 10 years – Chance of developing lung cancer and dying from it are almost halved compared with people who still smoke.

You don’t need me to tell you about the dangers of traditional cigarette smoking, but shisha has been widely researched and proves to be just as harmful with increased use. Vaping unknown and untested chemicals is probably not the best idea either! So, treat your body like a temple, you’ve only got one.

If you’re thinking of quitting contact the Quitline for a free Quit Pack on 13 7848 or visit their website on www.quitnow.gov.au.