Many states have a ban on indoor smoking yet amazingly more college-age students are hanging out in smoke-filled lounges. It’s called Hookah smoking and it’s a dangerous trend that is growing more popular among adolescents. Made famous by the pipe-smoking Caterpillar in the 1951 animated Disney film, Alice in Wonderland; hookah pipe smoking has since been glamorized by the media and other forms of popular culture.
The use of hookah water pipes originated in India, but is much more widely accepted as a Middle Eastern custom. After making its way to the states in the 1960’s and 70’s, hookah found its niche; strategically gaining appeal by marketing to the college-aged crowd. Unfortunately, in recent years, the smoke has spread to high school students (despite laws that limit the purchase of tobacco to those over the age of 18) who have become preoccupied with this risky habit.
With nearly 10 hookah lounges within a 10-mile radius of San Diego State University alone, it’s obvious that inhaling flavored smoke is a popular activity among the college crowd. John Smith, a former hookah enthusiast, gave me an inside look at the hookah lounge phenomena. He explains that hookah lounges work similarly to a restaurant, “You go in, pick a flavor, order it and then they mix it for you and bring it to your table.”
Not only can you find ways to participate in hookah through lounges and bars, many people eventually purchase their own water pipe for party entertainment as well as household recreational use.
Sadly, there are several myths that sugarcoat the risks associated with the smoking of water pipe tobacco, which mislead its users about this hazardous craze.
Myth #1: “Smoking water pipe tobacco is good for you because it has fruit in it”
The fruit flavoring in Hookah tobacco known as “shisha” is just that; flavoring. Therefore it provides no nutritional benefit. Some may argue that the places in which they purchase their shisha use all natural fruit as opposed to flavoring. However, that doesn’t eliminate the fact that while smoking, you are inhaling cancer-causing chemicals.
Myth #2: “It makes me feel relaxed”
How does smoking make Smith feel? “Relaxed.” Yes, like smoking cigarettes, smoking hookah can provide relaxing sensations. Unfortunately, smoking for relaxation is counterproductive. Smoking has been linked to cases of hypertension and high blood pressure, and in no way does that exclude hookah smoking.
Myth #3: “At least, I’m not smoking cigarettes”
Believe it or not, the flavored shisha contains even more nicotine than its cigarette counterpart. In fact, studies have shown that hookah tobacco contains nearly 1.25 mg more nicotine than cigarettes. One cigarette usually lasts only 10 minutes in comparison the average hookah session can last several hours. Smith claims to have smoked at most two times a week for up to three hours at a time. In terms of tar and nicotine, that’s comparable to six packs of cigarettes per week.
That’s associated with chemical dependence, but the psychological dependence could be even more damaging. So, while many people use hookah smoking as a method to unwind after a long day, the biological and recreational stimuli that accompany this activity could become addictive.
Myth #4: “The water filters the smoke and takes out any chemicals”
The water jar located at the base of the Hookah is intended to cool and humidify the smoke before it travels through the hose into the smoker’s mouth. While this does eliminate the risk of burning the lungs, it does not take into account all of the carcinogens found in the tobacco such as tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals associated with cancer.
In comparison to cigarettes, hookah users can be exposed to 36 times more tar and approximately 15 times more carbon monoxide.
Myth #5: “I’m not smoking the entire time, I’m sharing it with my friends”
While that may be true, social smokers like Smith are exposing themselves to dangers other than tobacco such as diseases associated with the sharing of mouthpieces. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, sharing mouthpieces during hookah smoking can lead to infectious diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis.
Unfortunately, believing these myths has only added to the appeal of hookah smoking as a trendy popular social activity. As with any decision you make concerning your health, it is important to be informed of the risks and benefits to your body.
Editor’s Note: John Smith’s name has been changed to protect his identity.