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Smoking ban: Life without the shisha

By Rasha Abu Baker for CNN

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Shishas come in lots of shapes and sizes.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Imagine denying a Brit a pint or banning a Swede from a sauna.

Hard to contemplate. Yet many Middle Easterners in England are trying to come to terms with a new reality -- life without the shisha.

The shisha, also known as a hookah, is a stand-up water pipe device often used to smoke flavored tobacco. It is one of the most favorite pastimes of Middle Easterners.

But it will all go up in smoke when a public ban on smoking comes into effect in June 2007.

Although people would still be able to enjoy the ancient habit at home, many feel it will never be the same.

"You are not meant to smoke the shisha by yourself," says Yasmin Ahmed, 23.

"It's a social thing. You come to a shisha cafe with a group of friends and enjoy the atmosphere," she adds, taking a drag from a long, multi-colored shisha pipe.

Yasmin and her friend Nadia are regulars at Palms Palace, one of some 20 shisha cafes around Edgware Road, a popular piece of Arabia in central London.

Like most shisha lovers, they are bewildered why the ban should include shisha smoking.

"It takes away people's choice. Shishas are not like cigarettes, people come here to specifically smoke the shisha and know what to expect. It's like banning a pub from selling alcohol. This is their business and this is what they sell," Nadia says.

Shisha cafe owners are feeling helpless. Many are starting to reflect on the loss they would suffer once the ban comes into force. "It will break my business," says Qais Siza, owner of Palms Palace. "This is the only business I have, how would it survive?"

Siza says the Edgware Road area would be dead without its vibrant and appealing shisha culture. "This area is famous for its shisha and Arabic food and that's what many tourists come here to enjoy," he says.

The ban will not only affect shisha businesses across the country, it will seriously alter the social habits of the Middle Eastern community.

"It will have a huge cultural impact, the government should have consulted our community," says Ibrahim El-Nour, chief executive of the Edgware Road Association. A "Community for Shisha" group is campaigning to try and influence the legislation by lobbying the government in an attempt to save the custom.

"Shisha brings people together. Our community uses it as a means to socialize, discuss politics and exchange views," he says.

Furthermore, El-Nour claims the government has not presented a clear case to justify the ban. "The government haven't conducted any meaningful scientific study on the effects of shisha smoke," he says.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health says the government hopes the ban will encourage people to stop smoking.

"Smoking any tobacco product is harmful to your health. The Health Bill is a huge step forward for public health and will save thousands of lives by preventing smoking related diseases," the spokesperson said.

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