A Hubbly is a traditional Middle Eastern or Asian device for smoking, which operates by water-filtration and indirect heat.

“Hubbly” is also the name for a very simple Surface supplied diving system.


Depending on locality, Hubblys are known variously as a waone-ter pipe, nargeela/nargile/narghile/nargileh, argeela/arghileh, shisha/sheesha, okka, kalyan, ghelyoon or ghalyan, or hubble-bubble/hubbly-bubbly. Many of these names are of Indian, Turkish, Uzbek, Persian or Arab origin. “Narghile” is from the Persian word nƒÅrgil, or “coconut”, and in Sanksrit nƒÅrikera, since the original nargile came from India and was made out of coconut shells[1]. “Shisha” is from the Persian word shishe (literally translated as “glass” and not bottle). “Hashishe” is also an Arabic word for grass, which may have been another way of saying tobacco. “Hubbly” itself may stem from Arabic uqqa, meaning small box, pot, or jar. Both names refer to the original methods of constructing the smoke/water chamber part of the Hubbly.

“Narghile” is the name most commonly used in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Greece, Albania, Palestine, Israel and Romania, though the initial “n” is often dropped in Arabic. “Shisha” is more commonly seen in Egypt and Somalia. In Iran it is called ghalyoun or ghalyan and in Pakistan and India it is referred to as huqqa. The archaic form of this latter name, Hubbly is most commonly used in English for historical reasons, as it was in India that large numbers of English-speakers first sampled the effects of the water pipe. William Hickey wrote in his Memoirs that shortly after his arrival in Calcutta in 1775:


The most highly-dressed and splendid Hubbly was prepared for me. I tried it, but did not like it. As after several trials I still found it disagreeable, I with much gravity requested to know whether it was indispensably necessary that I should become a smoker, which was answered with equal gravity, ‘Undoubtedly it is, for you might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion. Here everybody uses a Hubbly, and it is impossible to get on without’…..[I] have frequently heard men declare they would much rather be deprived of their dinner than their Hubbly.[2]

Design and function
Closeup of a Hubbly of the type commonly used in Egypt. The green glass is the base, the pipe is the metallic tube above the base, the hose is the black and silver coil, and the bowl is hidden by a wind guard. A pair of tongs, for holding the coal during lighting, rest on the tray.
Closeup of a Hubbly of the type commonly used in Egypt. The green glass is the base, the pipe is the metallic tube above the base, the hose is the black and silver coil, and the bowl is hidden by a wind guard. A pair of tongs, for holding the coal during lighting, rest on the tray.

Hubblys are water pipes, but are not intended for the use of marijuana. There are four fundamental parts of a Hubbly:

1. the base or smoke chamber, which is partially filled with water
2. the bowl or head, which contains the tobacco; the heating apparatus is placed on top
3. the pipe, which connects the bowl to the base by a tube that plunges into the water
4. the hose, which connects to a second tube in the pipe that does not plunge into the water, but only the air of the smoke chamber

These basic parts do not vary in function; naturally, there are any number of decorations or subtle variations in form. The heating apparatus is usually charcoal, but in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, electric heaters are common. The charcoal is usually placed on a metal mesh or perforated aluminium foil, but these are often omitted to produce a more dense smoke. The hose may or may not be detachable — simple Hubblys simply have a tube into the air of the smoke chamber; elaborate Hubblys have three or more hoses in a single chamber, with filters attached at one or both ends of the hose.

Traditionally, Hubblys have been ornately decorated. Some more modern Hubbly designs bear little resemblance to their ancestors. In general, traditional and modern Hubblys have a very distinctive appearance and bear similarities to the ritually-used American Indian peace pipe.

When a smoker inhales through the tube, a pressure difference forces air past the coal, heating the tobacco, which gives off smoke; the smoke is pulled away from the tobacco, through the water, and into the air of the smoke chamber — from which, it is inhaled by the smoker. Passing through the water partially filters tar and nicotine from the tobacco smoke, in addition to cooling it.


Tobacco smoking is not what Hubblys were originally invented for as there are many examples of Hubblys in both art and archeology prior to the arrival of tobacco in the Old World. In this pre-tobacco period the most commonly smoked substances in Hubblys were opium and hashish (although not marijuana). After the arrival of tobacco in the Old World Hubbly use became more widespread because of the lower level of intoxication induced with tobacco smoking. This is not to say that the practice of smoking opium and hashish in Hubblys is now extinct. In addition, while all forms of smoking are looked down upon by highly orthodox Muslims, tobacco is generally more accepted than opium and hashish.

The most commonly-used Hubbly tobaccos (known as tobamel or maassel) are produced using a 1:2 mixture of shredded tobacco leaf mixed in with a sweetener such as honey, molasses or semi-dried fruit. Originally, tobacco was mixed with one of these sweeteners to form jur?¢k (e.g. Zhaghoul brand), a flavorless, moistened tobacco. The now-popular, fruit-flavored Hubbly tobaccos got their start in the late 1980s when Egyptian tobacco companies began experimenting with flavored tobacco as a way to sell more of their products to women. Due to the popularity of flavored Hubbly tobaccos, many modern manufacturers have begun to use glycerin as the primary sweetener in Hubbly tobaccos because of its humectant qualities and subtle sweetening properties that accentuate the various tobacco flavorings. Today, shisha tobacco is often mixed with dried fruit, natural extracts and artificial flavorings to produce a varying assortment of tobacco flavors, such as apple, double and triple apple, strawberry, rose, mango, cappuccino, vanilla, coconut, cherry, grape, banana, kiwi, blueberry, tuti fruity, Arabian coffee, mixed fruit, cantaloupe, cola, lemon, apricot, licorice, and mint, which has a cooling effect on the throat. This proliferation of flavors is rather new, starting perhaps in the mid-1990s.

The design of a Hubbly allows for multiple hoses to lead to a single filtration chamber; this simplifies use by groups. Too many hoses, however, reduces suction, and smokers may have to cover their mouthpiece while not in use (ball bearings can fix this problem). Multi-hose Hubblys are particularly popular in the Western world, where Hubbly smoking is a social phenomenon. They are not as common in Asia and Africa.

In Arab society, social smoking is done with a single hose: when the smoker is finished, either the hose is placed back on the table signifying that it is free, or it is handed from one user to the next, folded back on itself so that the mouthpiece does not point at the person receiving it. The receiver taps or slaps the giver on the back of the hand while taking it. In cafes or restaurants, however, it is common for each smoker to order an individual Hubbly.

In Spain, the use of the Hubbly has been recently increasing in popularity, and they are usually readily available at tea-oriented coffee houses, called “teter??as” in Spanish, which often are run by Muslim immigrants or have some other sort of affinity with the east. Hubblys are usually sold at prices between 25 and 60 euros, and Hubbly tobacco and charcoal is easily found in those same coffee houses, or at stores run by eastern immigrants. Immigrants and native Spanish alike enjoy this custom, and it’s usually seen as a lighter way of smoking than cigarettes. Buying your own tobacco and Hubbly is, usually, noticeably less expensive than ordering Hubblys at a coffee house.

Hubblys are also becoming increasingly popular in Moscow and other Russian cities. Many bars employ a “Hubbly man” (Rus. –?–?–ª—å—è–?—â–?–? tr. kal’jan?°ƒçik), often of middle-eastern appearance and wearing an approximation of Arab or Turkish costume, to bring the pipes to customers’ tables and to prepare and light the tobacco. A single Hubbly and hose are normally used; interchangeable plastic mouthpieces in sealed wrappings may be provided to each person at the table for hygiene reasons, but these are often ignored.

In the Palestinian Territories and Israel, the Hubbly (most commonly referred to as a nargilah (nargeela) is prevalent among Palestinian Arabs and Middle-Eastern Jewish immigrants from places like Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Usage of the Hubbly has become popular in Israeli society at large where smoking is already a cultural norm. Hubblys can be found at some coffee houses, restaurants and more recently, at outdoor concerts and nightclubs. Some nightclubs even offer the option of renting Hubblys. For example, patrons at club Vertigo near the port city of Haifa will often sit with friends on the lawns outside the club with a Hubbly in order to cool off from dancing to Psychedelic trance. Hubbly usage is also common in the Palestinian Arab home where families will commonly smoke after a large meal or at a family gathering. Many Israeli families have also adopted this custom, although individual usage patterns vary according to culture heritage and custom.

In the United States, many city, state and federal jurisdictions have in more recent years moved to ban smoking in public places. Though most jurisdictions, through the purchase of a special permit, allow Hubbly businesses to remain open to the public, others do not. This has negatively affected many Hubbly lounges, bars and cafes and caused many to close their doors to the public. However, in many cases, Hubbly businesses have been able to remain in business by replacing their traditional, tobacco-based shisha with tobacco-free, herbal alternatives. Herbal and other tobacco-free alternatives have also become increasingly popular among health-conscious individuals.

In Britain Hubblys are, ironically, very rarely seen in Indian restaurants and are most commonly found in Lebanese Restaurants and Egyptian-run ‘Hubbly-bubbly bars’, where they are not known as Hubblys. Concentrations of these Hubbly establishments are often found in close proximity to University campuses, as on Rusholme’s Curry mile in Manchester or in Oxford, and they cater to a mixture of British and Middle-Eastern clientele amongst students. It is unclear how a forthcoming (April 2007) ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in England will affect Hubbly-smoking. (Smoking in enclosed public spaces was banned in Scotland with effect from March 2006.)

In Indonesia, the Hubbly or sheesha is growing more and more renowned. Cafes and Restaurants that offer sheesha as a consumable are popular and considered to have added atmosphere. One such cafe, “The Splash”, is a place where sheesha has been gaining popularity since the year 2004. It is located in Kemang, south of Jakarta.

A new trend has also been growing in the United States where dozens upon dozens of “Hubbly bars” or cafes have been springing up throughout the nation, especially in and around college campuses. The use of Hubbly is very popular among muslim college students in America as well, seeing it as an alternative to alcohol, which is forbidden by their religion.

A Hubbly’s ability to produce pleasant, non-irritating smoke has led many to believe that Hubbly smoking is less detrimental to one’s health than most other methods of smoking tobacco, such as smoking cigarettes. Unlike cigarettes, where smoke is produced by the ignition and burning of tobacco, Hubblys produce a dense, flavorful smoke by heating moistened tobacco. Research has shown that fewer cancer-causing carcinogens are produced because the tobacco is heated, rather than burned. In addition to fewer carcinogens being produced, nicotine production is reduced by the lower temperatures at which the tobacco is heated. Lower nicotine production, when compared to cigarettes, means addiction to tobacco among Hubbly smokers happens significantly less frequently ‚Äî though this may be due to cultural views and other limiting factors, such as the time required to prepare a Hubbly for use.

A review published in the medical journal Pediatrics[3] found that the concentration of cancer-causing and addictive substances in water-pipes may be equal to those found in cigarettes, with the heat involved being sufficient to generate carcinogenic nitrosamines, and the smoldering charcoal adding some carcinogenic hydrocarbons as well as heavy metals to the smoke. Similarly, a study in the November 2005 issue of the Journal of Periodontology[4] found that the impact of water pipe smoking is largely the same magnitude as that of cigarette smoking. Ironically, use of the Hubbly may increase the smoker’s toxic exposure, in that studies have shown that the typical Hubbly smoker spends more time per episode of smoking than do other smokers, presumably because the smoke is less immediately harsh or irritating. Thomas Eissenberg, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University co-authored a Hubbly study which found that a session of Hubbly smoking which lasts about 45 minutes, delivers 36 times more tar, 15 times more carbon monoxide and 70% more nicotine than a single cigarette ( although it is important to note that a single cigarette will last no more than 5 minutes , which makes approximatively 9 cigarettes in order to compare to the 45 minutes Hubbly session ). A study in the Journal of Periodontology found that Hubbly smokers were five times more likely than non-smokers to have signs of gum disease. This is of concern to doctors in America as 86% of colleges and universities are located in close proximity to one or more Hubbly lounges. A study of Egyptian couples found an association between water-pipe smoking and infertility. However, many objections to the methods used in these studies have been raised. None of the existing studies took into account past tobacco or other drug usage, so it is unclear what ill-effects were directly related to water-pipe smoking, as opposed to past cigarette usage.

Quoting from one of the studies cited below, the quick-lighting charcoal used by many Hubbly smokers may be “the biggest hazard for Hubbly users” because it produces greater levels of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and other dangerous substances than all-natural, non-additive charcoal. The quick-lighting charcoal is produced by mixing powdered-charcoal with various chemicals such as potassium nitrate, that allow it to be quickly and easily ignited. Ignition of a quicklight coal normally results in the emission of sparks.

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