FIRST came the electric cigarette, now it’s the turn of the smoke-free shisha.
The tobacco-free alternative is being offered at a new shisha lounge in the Capital which is aiming to substitute a centuries-old tradition with a healthier option.
Having been partial to the odd toke on a traditional hookah, its sweet, fruity tobacco – which is burned using hot coals and drawn through the long hose of a water pipe – almost feels too smooth to be unhealthy.
But the practice, popular in many Arab countries, is argued to be as bad, or worse, than smoking cigarettes and is subject to the same UK laws and indoor smoking ban as its counterpart.
This flavoured water vapour version is the latest healthier alternative designed to replicate the sociable custom minus the carcinogens and addictive nicotine.
Carly Moore, manager at Scoopz ice-cream parlour on West Nicolson Street, where the smoke-free lounge has been set up, said it had been popular in its first week of trading.
“It’s never going to be exactly the same as the real experience but it’s the next best thing,” she says, as she sets up an apple and grape flavour to try.
“It works like an electronic cigarette. Instead of burning the coals on the top of the pipe, we attach this battery which lasts for hours.
“It takes a couple of minutes for it to get going, but then the vapour can be pulled through, much like the traditional pipe.
“It has the same hit at the back of your throat so you get the same sensation, without actually smoking.”
Three long pulls later and my mouth is full of the sweet fog. Sucking on the bubbling pipe is not a dissimilar sensation to smoking from a traditional hookah, but the flavoured fumes taste more like children’s sweets than any sort of smoke substitute.
Blueberry Mist, Cooling Mint and Pirates Cave, a citrus blend with mellowing mint, are the other options to choose from on the menu.
Groups of up to four people pay £10 between them and can spend as long as they like passing the pipe between themselves while ordering anything else they want from the popular student cafe.
Imaan Hazir, a law student at the University of Edinburgh who smokes the original in her native Pakistan, said:“This is OK but I think it’s better in Pakistan as there are far better flavours.
“It feels like you are smoking really thin smoke on this, so I prefer the coal version.”
ORIGINS ARE OBSCURE
THE origins of the “shisha” or “hookah” pipe are argued over by many, with countries including India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Syria claiming to be its birthplace.
The likelihood is the pipe had many forms and appeared in more than one country independently and through ancient trade routes.