Alternative smoking methods and devices such as the shisha and hookah have become increasingly popular, especially amongst teens and the youth, in recent years as people take them up for recreational use or as a less harmful alternative to the deadly, more expensive cigarette. Shisha is a term used to refer to the popular practice of smoking a tobacco substance through a bowl or pipe, known as a hookah. The two are often mixed up or presumed to be the same, and the terms are therefore used as if to mean the same thing. While the two are connected, however, shisha and hookah are actually two entirely different things altogether, and so referring to them in this way is in fact incorrect.
So what exactly are the differences, and what does each term actually mean?
‘Hookah’ is the official name for the water pipe through which various substances can be smoked or vaporized. Before the user inhales the vapour or smoke, it passes through a water basin, one of the main features of the device which is typically made of glass. Though the hookah has only become widely used and well known in the Western world in the last few decades, it has been a common and popular practice in many other parts of the world as far back as the 16th century when it first came into fruition. It was initially developed in India and is subsequently most common in India as well as the Middle East, where it has become somewhat embedded in their culture and grown to be something of a tradition, rather than a mere hobby.
In Arabic countries, the pipes themselves are often considered to be works of art, with intricate and well crafted designed hookahs being commonplace. It is also not uncommon for the instrument to be used in public or for it to be on offer in restaurants in places like Nepal and Egypt. In fact, it is so popular in the Middle East that a Shisha cafe culture has developed, with dedicated lounges for people to unwind. Now, people all over the world have picked up on it, with the hookah soaring in popularity across America, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia.
Not to be confused with the hookah, which, as we have established, refers to the actual pipe itself, ‘shisha’ is the name for the tobacco used within it, generally fruit-flavoured. While it is undoubtedly the most popular substance to be smoked or vaped using a hookah, this isn’t the only way in which it is smoked, with plenty of other ‘shisha’ based products available on the market, like e-cigarettes and pen containing it.
Though this is the formal meaning of shisha, in popular culture it is widely accepted as a word that can also be used to describe the practice of smoking through the hookah, and so, despite them meaning two different things, the two words can, ultimately, be used interchangeably.