Back in 2011 during the time of the Bangkok floods I found myself taking a lot of trips down to the Sukhumvit Road area of Bangkok because the northern area of the city was inundated and my school had shut.
We had relocated many things further into town so I often stayed down there. It was a relaxing time and I had a lot of free time. Wandering around the streets of upper Sukhumvit I tried some of the Indian and Arab restaurants in the Soi 3 to Soi 11 area. Great restaurants, great food.
But that is where I got hooked. No, I didn’t start talking to some of the infamous dark skinned guys that were increasingly hanging around the back streets in that part of town looking suspicious.
I got hooked on hookah.
All around the area at the time were restaurants where you could while away an hour or so watching the world go by with a peach, grape, or strawberry flavoured pipe of shisha. What could be more “cultured”? What could be more relaxing? What a lovely thing to do…..
I had been a smoker of cigarettes since I was introduced to it by my brother in England. He was about seven and I was about nine. You could say I was an addictive personality. By my teenage years I was smoking ten a day and when I came to Bangkok in my twenties I would smoke 20-60 Krong Thip a day depending on whether I went out in the evening or not. All my friends smoked.
This lasted until 1998 when I decided out of the blue to go cold turkey. I succeeded in giving up and vowed never to have another cigarette. I went onto chocolate and my weight ballooned but at least I had ditched the fags.
Move on to 2011. I had had a few puffs of shisha in England and never looked into its effect on health. Rather uncharacteristically for me I just thought it was a relatively harmless thing to do – especially in moderation. After all it said on the tobacco that it was 95% molasses.
So there I was starting to go out for a relaxing shisha. Alone. Each smoking session would last 45 minutes to an hour, along with a coffee. Lovely.
Then I noticed something after the floods dissipated. I started to continue to go down to Sukhumvit. I told myself this was just to pop out for something to do. I always started in the shisha dens of Soi 3.
Many times I would go to watch the live football in the restaurants there. Smoking shisha…constantly. I loved that mild buzz you got. From the shisha…not the football…
After a while I realized I was going out not really for the football or to go somewhere else later but specifically because I wanted shisha. I was already addicted.
So I tried to wean myself off. That failed and I started smoking a couple of cigarettes a day. Then five. Bumming cigs from friends. Then buying packets of them.
Shisha had led me back on the slippery slope to cigarettes after being clear of them for 13 years and more. I smoked more and more until an old friend who didn’t see me very often said: “I didn’t know you were smoking again”. Reality jolt.
I put out my last cigarette and this time I will never have another one as long as I live. That was Valentine’s Day 2012 and I have stuck to it.
And I sure as hell have not gone anywhere near shisha either because I am convinced that it was the hookah that got me hooked.
When the military government came in they announced that shisha smoking, possession of the pipes, tobacco used for them…the whole shebang was now illegal. Whether it actually became illegal because of a law change is a moot point. Maybe it just became “illegal” because the tobacco and the equipment was not properly taxed.
Rather like reports of how people can be jailed for vaping. The point was the police and army were now raiding anywhere that offered shisha in public. Then they started doing it in private dens. The word “baraguu” that refers to shisha smoking in Thai was often in headlines about raids in Bangkok. It was illegal alright. Some writers – even on Inspire – suggest it is still prevalent behind closed doors. I won’t be trying to find out, however.
Now, I am not the kind of person who thinks you should ban something like shisha just because it may not be as healthy as broccoli. People should be allowed to partake if they want. Tax it by all means.
But it doesn’t take much Googling ability to find out how many warnings there are out there about the habit of smoking shisha.
Many studies indicate that due to the amount of smoke inhaled it can be more dangerous than cigarette smoking. The fact that the smoke goes through water doesn’t help any. Even the coals may be dangerous.
But what is most shocking are the studies that suggest how many cigarettes’ worth the smoker is inhaling in an hour session on the hookah pipe. I always felt it might be the equivalent of having two or three cigarettes.
Not a bit of it. Some studies suggest that an hour on shisha is like having 100, even 200 cigarettes. That “cultured” hour I used to spend could have been like the full time smoking of cigarettes for three days.
And looking back that is exactly what smoking shisha did to me. It re-addicted me to nicotine and cigarettes in double quick time, almost before I realized what was happening.
In this regard the junta’s no shisha policy might be doing many people a favor.