The Health Risks of Smoking a Hookah
In my very small hometown is a neon-lit store called Hookah Mocha. This establishment has been here for several years, and the front parking lot often looks full. I’ve never been inside Hookah Mocha, and the truth is that, for many years, I didn’t even know what it was. But now I realize it’s a lounge for smoking hookah tobacco.
The first thing I did upon learning of Hookah Mocha’s services was ask what hookah smoking is. Also known as narghile, shisha, and goza, a hookah is a water pipe with a smoke chamber, a bowl, a pipe, and a hose. Specially made tobacco is heated for use in the hookah, and the smoke passes through water and is then drawn through a rubber hose to a mouthpiece.
A False Presumption
This centuries-old practice is widely perceived to be less harmful and addictive than smoking cigarettes or other forms of tobacco. Yet evidence shows it can be just as addictive and perhaps even more dangerous because of the involvement of a waterpipe. Scientists estimate that by puffing longer and in greater volume, a waterpipe smoker inhales the equivalent of 100 cigarettes or more during a hookah single session, which can last as long as 60 minutes. And the water in the hookah does not filter out toxic ingredients found in tobacco smoke. Other dangers include:
- Subjection to high levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and cancer-causing chemicals. In fact, hookah smokers are exposed to more carbon monoxide and smoke than are cigarette smokers.
- Possible development of lung and oral cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses, just as with cigarette smoking.
- Potential tobacco dependence because hookah smoking delivers about the same amount of nicotine as cigarette smoking.
- Low birth-weight babies when pregnant women smoke hookah.
- Risk of infectious diseases because hookah pipes in bars and cafes may not be properly cleaned.
One of the attractions with hookah is its taste, usually enhanced with flavors like mint, chocolate, vanilla, cappuccino, or cherry. This practice tends to draw a “starter” crowd, and a university study suggests one in four female college freshmen will try smoking hookah because it’s a social experience. A group of people usually passes around a shared mouthpiece, which forges a feeling of unity and peer acceptance. Some lounges offer disposable mouthpieces for better hygiene, but health experts aren’t fooled. They warn that hookah smokers are likely to go on to use other tobacco products, and this coupled with the risky behavior that college students often exhibit may produce disastrous consequences.
The Inside Dope
But proponents of hookah smoking argue it’s a safe practice because users don’t have to inhale the smoke into their lungs. Instead, they puff as if on a pipe, which is believed to reduce the health hazards. In reality, however, studies show that hookah smokers absorb high levels of toxins and carcinogens. In addition to the problems listed above, users are at risk for reduced lung function and future fertility problems.
Almost half a million Americans die prematurely each year from using tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke. That’s nearly one in five deaths. As such, hookah smoking should be regarded as a dangerous occupation that’s neither cool nor safe. “Using a hookah to smoke tobacco poses a serious potential health hazard to smokers and others exposed to the smoke emitted,” warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.