The Canadian Cancer Society is concerned that smoking shisha in the first hookah lounge in St. John's will hurt patrons more than if they smoked cigarettes. 

Aladdin's Hookah Lounge, which opened on Water Street in downtown St. John's on Thursday, serves shisha — a blend of flavoured herbs smoked through a hookah, a water pipe.

Mohamed El Bakri, a co-owner of the lounge, says their shisha doesn't contain tobacco. But that doesn't alleviate the concerns of the cancer society.

'They [World Health Organization] have determined that a typical one-hour waterpipe smoking session will expose people to 100 to 200 times the level of smoke that they would receive from a cigarette.'- Maggie Hynes

"They still contain substances that are cancer-causing," says Maggie Hynes, health promotions coordinator at the Canadian Cancer Society in Newfoundland and Labrador. "They contain heavy metals, tar, CO [carbon monoxide], PAH [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons], which are all considered carcinogens."

But El Bakri says their herbal-based shisha has the approval of the Department of Health and Community Services. 

"They [the Department of Health and Community Services] know exactly what product we're going to be selling," said El Bakri.

The shisha is a blend of herbs, molasses and an added flavour. Aladdin's Hookah Lounge sells 10-11 different shisha flavours, both minty and fruity. 

Health concerns about shisha

But Hynes points out that the World Health Organizations is concerned about shisha.

"The World Health Organization has done research, and they have determined that a typical one-hour waterpipe smoking session will expose people to 100 to 200 times the level of smoke that they would receive from a cigarette," said Hynes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a factsheet on hookahs that smoke from hebal-based shishas "contain carbon monoxide and other toxic agents known to increase the risks for smoking-related cancers, heart disease and lung disease." 

Hookah Lounge

The first hookah lounge in St. John's has opened, featuring smoking shisha through a water pipe similar to this photo. (Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

Hynes said the cancer society would like to see the government "amend the Smoke Free Tobacco Act include not just tobacco products, but all smoking products."

El Bakri said though that people who smoke his shisha don't get a high or buzz from it.

"What people love about it is the ambiance," said El Bakri. "I'm pretty sure it's the whole experience people are after rather than the high or buzz that they can get off a cigarette or drug."

With files from Jonathan Crowe