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From ancient Persia, shisha has arrived in Phnom Penh

Belly dancer Linda Asha Abdalla smoking shisha.
Belly dancer Linda Asha Abdalla smoking shisha. SOMA NORODOM

From ancient Persia, shisha has arrived in Phnom Penh

There's a new craze in town, and it’s not the latest dance. Shisha smoking, also known as hookah or hubble-bubble, is a popular trend in many parts of the world, and now in Cambodia.

Users are primarily college students and young adults, and males are more likely to try it than females. In the US, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta, Georgia, reported that between 22 per cent and 40 per cent of university students had tried hookah in the past year. In 2006, 300 hookah cafes were operating in the US and the numbers continue to grow each year.

In the UK, the British Heart Foundation reported a 210 per cent increase in the number of shisha bars from 2007 to 2012, an estimated 179 as compared to 556 bars last year.

A hookah or shisha is a waterpipe that is used to smoke flavoured tobacco. Originated in Persia and India, shisha smoking includes the use of water (the base), and charcoal (top near tobacco), in which the air is heated so the tobacco is vapourised instead of being burnt, and you inhale through a mouthpiece.

Many people confuse shisha smoking with some type of drug when they witness it for the first time, but shisha smoking is legal. In countries like Turkey, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, public shisha smoking is banned.

“Shisha is popular in Cambodia because young Cambodian people are always looking for something new and trendy,” said Linda Asha Abdalla, operations manager for Harem Shisha Lounge, on the riverfront.

“Smoking shisha is unique and incomparable to other types of smoking. With different flavours to choose from like vanilla, apple, strawberry, orange, guava or peach, the smoke emitted is light and it smells of fruits.”

Asha Abdalla, also a belly dancer, added, “I have been smoking shisha for eight years now, and even though I’ve always had one at home and occasionally use it, I would still go to a shisha lounge with friends as it’s more exciting than sitting at home.”

Shisha smoking can make you feel relaxed, but it can also be a sexual stimulant. Some herbal shisha ingredients like the damania is used as a sexual stimulant in Latin America. Damania is one of the most widely used aphrodisiacs, as it affects the nervous system and produces a soothing feeling, and stimulates the sexual appetite.

Dr Fil Tabayoyong Jr, medical doctor and clinical and behavioral psychologist in Phnom Penh, stated, “I’ve counseled a patient who would smoke shisha first before having sex. Every time he would indulge in waterpipe smoking, his urge for sex increased. He related that he felt more relaxed, had strength and stamina, and enjoyed the erotic experience.”

Shisha smoking is a lifestyle experience. The best way to smoke shisha is in the evening after dinner with a good friend or a group of friends. Sit down and relax on a sofa in a cozy shisha lounge with subtle lighting and nice music, and indulge yourself, but within limits.

Note: Any types of smoking will have health risks, including shisha

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