Picture this: the mood is like that of any other shisha joint in Dubai. Warm lighting, Arabic music in all its glory, moroccan tea in abundance, and the smell of scented tobacco smoke in the air: a universal retreat for adults across the city, regardless of nationality, citizenship status, and culture; a respite from the daily grind, and most certainly shelter from the heat. At present, for a good few hours, your primary goal is to socialize and slowly char your lungs. I’m not judging – I’ve done it myself. There is a rose-tinted, lemon-mint scented smokescreen in the way of our better judgment, but we are adults; we make autonomous decisions regarding what goes into our body.
Once you’ve filled your socialization quota (or wish to move on to bigger, better, and perhaps more alcoholic things) and are all shisha’d out, you get up from the sprawling cushions and sluggishly adjust to the real world. The thought of fresh air is incredibly appealing. You notice, for the first time, the table next to you. You notice, for the first time, a toddler. You clear your hookah-borne swampy throat and realize with a jolt that there is a pretty decent chance this Mothercare-wearing, tiny, minor of a human being has been inhaling the same shit you’ve been.
Horror enters, stage left. Shock soon follows. Guilt brings up the rear, but at the head of everything is confusion. Many restaurants that serve shisha will ask you for identification, ensuring you’re of legal age before you are served. Often, this gets waived for larger parties, simply because of the hassle that is ID’ing each and every person in the party – but toddlers, bouncing five year olds, susceptible preteens and even babies in their mothers’ arms are not hard to miss. Now I’m not trying to be the morality police here, but surely children should not have to be exposed to the health hazards of hookah, especially if they aren’t educated on the harmful effects of what is, quite honestly, a huge cultural staple here in the Middle East, and a trend which is gaining traction in the rest of the world as well.
Everyone knows how gross smoking is. Anti-smoking campaigns have been growing more and more common, and even cigarette boxes are sweetly decorated with damning, hard-to-stomach images of Smoker X’s future lungs, unborn child, decayed teeth and gums, et cetera. This person has lung cancer – and so can you! Even in the Middle East people are being educated and advised against smoking hookah. Shisha has many of the same health hazards as cigarettes do, and then some: keep in mind that for most people, smoking is a lengthy affair, and a Dhs50 hookah (a reasonably hefty sum) can last you for as long as you want it to, provided that there is someone to change the coals – and there always is. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, and other organizations well-versed in such things, it’s reasonable to assume that smoking hookah is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes considering the average cigarette requires 20 puffs, where an hour long session of shisha can see the user taking about 100 puffs. Caveat to this stipulation: research about smoking hookah is still on-going.
Once again, this isn’t a call for everyone to get up, roll up their sleeves, and smash their shishas to the ground, throw their hookahs off their 34th floor balcony (I respect your passion, but please don’t do this) or put that spankin’, “slightly worn” product up for sale on Dubizzle. It’s your body, you do what you want, you’re an adult – or at least capable of making independent decisions once you know the facts. My only concern is for the children whom you take to restaurants that are ignorant of what they are inhaling. Until they know, they can’t make a reasonable assessment as to whether or not they should go. Your two year old will not be spewing facts against being taken out for family dinner. And (hopefully) they won’t be smoking themselves but what about that ever-present second-hand smoke circulating around your table? You don’t have to be smoking shisha yourself, I can assure you, there are plenty of people doing that for you.
I’m not here to tell you how to parent. I have no parenting experience and as far as my mother is concerned my business is to be parented and go to college like a good daughter. All I request is a bit of cognizance, some careful thinking before you pack your child in a car seat and make the drive to Dubai Marina. You may think you’re in the clear if you yourself are not smoking but a hookah-devoid table in the midst of a restaurant filled with smoke does not a healthy oasis make.