Islamabad: One-fifth of college and university students in Pakistan -- aged from 20 to 25 years -- are addicted to smoking sheesha, a form of hookah-smoking with a flavoured tobacco, a study has found.
The study by the Pakistan Medical Research Council (PMRC) said the prevalence of sheesha-smoking among such students across the country was 19.7 percent, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported.
According to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2005, sheesha smoke has high concentrations of toxic compounds like carbon monoxide, heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals and potentially addictive levels of nicotine.
Experts say sheesha happens to be more dangerous than cigarettes as it contains 40 percent tobacco and 60 percent flavour.
The report said that over 57 percent youngsters start smoking sheesha at the age of 17 to 18 years.
The highest trend of sheesha smoking among students was 28 percent in the capital.
The study said engineering students smoke the most, at 29 percent.
About 12 percent smoked in sheesha cafes, and flavours like double apple and mint were very popular.
Even as experts say that one sheesha smoking session equals up to 100 cigarettes, around 12 percent students said sheesha was less harmful than cigarette smoking.
PMRC executive director Huma Qureshi said awareness regarding sheesha smoking was "tremendously low" in the country.
In a report in the Daily Times, Tajammul Baig, a senior doctor at the Civil Hospital Karachi, said smoking sheesha could be a major cause for lung cancer.
"In a session, a sheesha smoker inhales tobacco equal to up to 100 cigarettes, which is not even consumed by a chain smoker of cigarettes per day," Baig said.
Cigarette smokers typically take eight to 12 puffs over five to seven minutes, inhaling 0.5 to 0.6 litre of smoke. In contrast, sheesha sessions last 20-80 minutes, during which the smoker may take around 50 puffs, each ranging from 0.15 to one litre each.