Hooked on Hookah

Jul 28, 2014 | Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
Hooked on Hookah

image by: Cachimberos

Hookah is healthier and less addictive than cigarettes, right? Think again

Why do we do things we know we shouldn’t?  For instance, we believe in astrology and we read our horoscope. We text while driving.  We believe “it” can’t happen to us. We pretend to like jazz.  We use folding chairs as step stools. We drink too much, and we smoke hookahs.  Maybe, we’re an optimistic breed, always looking at the bright side.  Or, maybe we have limited reasoning skills. 

Take the hookah example.  Hookah smoking is an age-old tradition rooted in Persia and India and for many years was generally confined to those areas.  However, its recent rise in popularity among young Americans has become a major concern to health care professionals.  This is because hookah smoking is more addictive and harmful than people realize.

So, what is hookah?  A hookah is a water pipe with an integrated smoke chamber, which is attached to a large bowl with a small hose.  As the tobacco is heated, the smoke passes through the water into a chamber where it is cooled, and then moves through the hose that is attached to the mouthpiece.  Hookah tobacco comes in a variety of flavors, such as apple, mint, cherry, chocolate, coconut, licorice, cappuccino, and watermelon.  Sounds tasty, right?

Ironically though, the increase in hookah smoking coincides with a decrease in cigarette smoking, which according to the Centers for Disease Control is at its lowest recorded rate. But, this is because hookah smokers believe that hookah smoke is less dangerous than cigarettes because hookah smoke passes through the water filter before it’s inhaled.  It’s like twenty years of anti-smoking PSA’s warning us that Smoking …Will …Kill … You doesn’t apply to hookah.

And, for those of us over 30, hookah bars, or “lounges” as the cool kids like to call them, are the greatest thing since near beer, underage nightclubs, and iPhones.  These dark, smoke and music filled rooms provide a legal, cool place for the young’uns to hang out and be social.  Generally, it’s a place where no self-respecting adult would find themselves when there is a perfectly good bar next door. 

However, the hookah bar trend doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon, as evidenced by the thousands of hookah bars that have opened across the country in the past few years.  In fact, a 2013 survey conducted by the University of Michigan reported that hookah smoking amongst people under 21 had risen 21% from the previous year. This translates to 1 in 5 high school seniors and 1 in 3 college students having smoked hookah.

Yet, these kids are under the assumption that hookahs are a safe alternative to cigarettes, which is a particularly dangerous notion given the results of several studies suggesting that hookah is far more dangerous than cigarettes. For example, a single hookah session will expose the user to 1.7 times the nicotine, 6.5 times the carbon monoxide, and 46.4 times the tar of a single cigarette.  And, according to the World Health Organization, in one 80 minute hookah session the user will inhale as much smoke as a cigarette smoker who smoked 100 cigarettes would.  My lungs hurt just thinking about that!

In addition, a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco reported that hookah smoke contains a myriad of toxins in addition to those found in cigarettes, such as:  acrylamide - which damages the nervous system; acrolein - which irritates the eyes, throat and nose; benzene, carbon monoxide and naphthalene - which damage red blood cells.

All the scary statistics aside, it’s easy to understand why hookah is attractive to teens and young adults, there’s the cool, fruity flavors of the tobacco, the sense of safety, and the adult-like social experience.  And it doesn’t hurt that celebrities like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Drake, and Dave Chappelle are public hookah smokers.  In fact, Drake smokes a hookah in his video for “Started from the Bottom.”  Monkey see.  Monkey do.

Like I said, I don’t think hookah is going away any time soon, it’s too appealing.  Sadly though, this will likely result in a huge upswing in smoking related illnesses and deaths in the next 40 years. But after reading this, if you’re still not convinced, think about this:   A few hours in a hookah lounge is the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes and then kissing everybody in the room, on the mouth, herpes and all.  Gross.

Stacy Matson is a health enthusiast from Southern California and regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.

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