THE call for the ban of shisha smoking at eateries did not go down well with a group of smokers at an Arab outdoor restaurant in the city where I was dining out with my family last Thursday.
Apparently, the group of local shisha smokers was fuming over the report in the New Straits Times they had read earlier that day.
The Malaysian Medical Association had called for the ban of the tobacco-molasses pipe following the Kota Baru Municipal Council's decision to stop shisha smoking in eateries.
We were finishing our drinks after dinner when the group arrived. They took a table next to ours and promptly ordered a shisha pipe to be shared.
Because I was not too fond of smoke when dining, I took a table far away from diners who were there to smoke the pipes.
But when the group arrived, I had the pleasure of listening to their side of the story. The youths, three young men and a woman in their 20s, were loudly expressing their displeasure between shared puffs of the shisha pipe.
One of them said that shisha smoking was not harmful, and concluded that it was no worse than cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking.
A girl in the group chided the MMA for not minding its own business and infringing on the right of shisha smokers to smoke.
I did not know what shisha smoking was until that evening's eye-opener. As I watched the waiters topping up the hot coal onto a receptacle on top of the shisha pipe, and smelling the sweet scent of the second-hand smoke, I realised why many non-smokers who hated cigarette smoke did not mind shisha's.
It did not smell as bad as burnt tobacco, a clove cigarette, or cheap cheroot.
But I wonder if shisha smoking is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes.
Never mind if the smoke is less smelly but tobacco is still tobacco, and burnt tobacco produces nicotine.
And what about the coal used to heat up the shisha -- does the smoker not inhale some of the fumes from burning coal in the same breath?
That evening, I wondered if the eatery which provided such good Arab food would consider setting up a non-smoking area soon so that non-smokers like my family and I could enjoy their excellent cuisine without having to inhale second-hand smoke on the slipstream or struggle to see what were on the plates because of too much smoke.
Defenders of shisha smoking could say that the activity is attractive to tourists from the Middle-East.
Premises offering shisha smoking can certainly make these tourists feel at home -- just like the sight of nasi lemak to Malaysians in a foreign land.
But when I see more locals than Arabs tugging at the hoses of shisha pipes, I wonder if local smokers are merely doing it to look cool or a new smoking culture is being adopted.
As far as I know, our forefathers only smoked rokok daun (tobacco rolled in nipah palm leaves) but never shisha.