Charcoal-free shisha to launch globally as demand for clean smoking products rises

The pod-based device heats the shisha using a 'micro-oven', without burning it

Air Global launches Ooka, the world's first charcoal-free, pod-based shisha device. Photo: Air Global
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A charcoal-free pod-based shisha will go on sale globally to help satisfy a growing demand for cleaner smoking products.

Ooka, from Air Global, heats the shisha using a “micro-oven” without burning it, before it passes through water for inhalation.

It claims to be the world's first charcoal-free pod-based shisha product and was launched in the UAE earlier this year.

The company behind the technology, which was created by a former Dyson designer, says it is healthier for human beings and the planet, with, on average, a 94 per cent reduction in a range of harmful chemicals, and non-detectable levels of carbon monoxide.

But Air Global is not alone in launching a cleaner alternative to traditional hookah. Other products exist that deliver a nicotine hit via ultrasonic vibrations, which could cut the risk of cancer from inhaling toxic fumes.

The trend is similar to that seen in vaping, which is regarded as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes.

Experts say switching to such products significantly reduces a person's exposure to toxins that can cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Ronan Barry, Air Global’s chief legal and corporate affairs officer, told The National that Ooka quickly sold out when it was launched in the Emirates.

And while sales are still dominated by traditional shisha, the company aims to transform the market.

“As a company our aim is to take charcoal out of shisha,” he said.

“The charcoal emissions can infiltrate the pipe through the perforated foil. That means you do inhale some charcoal emissions, which obviously has an impact on toxicity and taste.

“There's no detectable carbon monoxide coming from [Ooka] at all.”

About 100 million people around the world use shisha, or similar water pipes, on a daily basis.

It is particularly popular in the Middle East, where between 12 per cent and 15 per cent of the population are regular users.

UAE-based Air Global holds the largest share of the global shisha market at 47 per cent, serving 14 million people, a share equal to the size of the next four market players combined.

Mr Barry said shisha has been used in the Middle East since the 16th century and Ooka opens “up a new chapter” in the way it can be enjoyed.

“The consumer feedback is very encouraging,” he said.

“Generally speaking, it's as good or better.

“[Sales] kind of exceeded our expectations. Being out of stock is a blessing and a curse.”

The company recorded an 8.2 per cent increase in sales between 2021 and 2022.

Ooka has partially launched in the US, and plans to enter other markets over the next 18 months.

“We would look first at more widely in the Middle East,” Mr Barry said.

Germany and the UK are also of interest, but the UK market is challenging, he said.

“The taxes are very high relative to global average excise taxes, combined with the fact that there's almost no enforcement of tax compliance.

“So the market is largely illicit. So if you're a legal business, and you're committed to operating legally, the UK is not the most attractive market in the world. But then again, this is a unique premium product that kind of changes the analysis a bit.”

Updated: July 21, 2023, 8:46 AM