Smoking Shisha vs. Cigarettes, or Getting Hooked on Hookah
Hookah Smokers Beware
© Roberta Kyle 2012, all rights reserved
According to a new study, one in three American college students has tried smoking shisha or hookah(the two terms are interchangeable) and hookah lounges are sprouting as quickly as dandelions on a suburban lawn in college towns and big cities across the country.
Hookah is hot and its popularity is growing,particularly among the 18-24 demographic. According to an even newer study,published online by the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors,, one in four non smoking female college freshman will try hookah for the first time at school this year.
The problem is that, no matter how you slice it, tobacco is toxic and nicotine is highly addictive. It looks like hookah is well on the way to becoming the gateway to cigarette smoking/nicotine addiction for college age and college bound young people-- something that few neophyte hookah smokers know about or give any thought to. Though the research is just beginning, it is very clear that unlike what many hookah smokers thing, hookah is definitely NOT a safe alternative to cigarette smoking/
What Is Hookah?
Hookah (aka Shisha) refers to both the water pipe itself and to the activity of smoking flavored tobacco through it. It is a social experience which tends to take place in a hookah bar or lounge where customers can talk watch TV,read or play chess while they smoke. People do occasionally throw hookah parties in their own homes, but mostly, they indulge at a hookah bar or lounge in a session that lasts from 30 to 60 minutes.
Special, flavored tobacco, is heated over charcoal and then water cooled while being inhaled by the user through a water pipe. The hookah itself sits in the center of the table and smokers pass the mouthpiece to one another, which is part of the social aspect of the experience.
There is a whole etiquette which has evolved in hookah lounges around shisha/hookah as a social experience. Hookah originated centuries ago in Persia or India, and has become an integral part of the culture of the region. In Western Europe and North America, it is a relatively recent phenomenon but has been wholeheartedly embraced by a younger generation for whom cigarettes are no longer cool. This generation is creating its own etiquette. Hookah is not immoral or illegal and there is no problem with it if one is of age and making an informed choice. I need to stress that particularly for North Americans with Middle Eastern roots, hookah lounges are a cultural rite of passage and an extension of a time honored cultural tradition. That said, there are dangers to which young people and their parents should pay attention and there are serious health consequences to be mindful of..
A Generational Divide
Kids as young as fifteen and sixteen are trying hookah, convinced that perfumed tobacco filtered through water is less dangerous than tobacco inhaled directly into the lungs via cigarettes.In America, hookah lounges are doing a land office business with the high school and college crowd while flying just under the legal radar. You can't buy a pack of cigarettes if you are sixteen, but you probably won't get carded in a hookah bar as long as somebody over 18 actually places the order and pays the bill. Someone will happily pass the pipe to you.
Ask any fourteen year old about hookah and they know all about it, even if they haven't tried it. Ask any forty year old and you will get a puzzled look. In America shisha is the preserve of the young. This is a new hip thing-- not your parents pack of Camels. It is also international and cross cultural just like the Millennial Generation itself. Mom and Dad may have invaded My Space and Facebook, but they are unlikely to show up at the hookah lounge.
The problem is that nicotine, no matter how delivered, is highly addictive and has a powerful effect on the human brain. It has also been shown that the younger one is when one starts smoking, the the more permanent changes take place in the brain and the harder it is to stop later on down the road. It is also true that after a few sessions in a hookah bar, a teenages may start craving nicotine and start bumming cigarettes, only to become hooked on them as well. In other words, for young people, hookah can be a gateway to cigarettes and a lifetime of consequences from nicotine addiction.
What You Should Know
I just have to say it again: Smoking tobacco through a water pipe is just as bad or worse for your health than puffing away on a cigarette. Do not think that just because the tobacco is burned in a bowl and filtered through water that it is safe. Do not suppose, either, that the nicotine in that tobacco has been in any way diluted or made less addictive by being flavored, burned over charcoal and passed through water before entering your body. Some pretty impressive authorities say that it isn't so.
While scientific studies are really only beginning to be done, it is looking like smoking hookah may, in some cases, be even worse for you than smoking cigarettes. There is little question that nicotine is powerfully addicting and that one can get hooked on it through hookah, cigarettes, cigars or even the gum and lozenges that are meant to help you stop smoking. Here are a few of the things some of the experts have to say.
According to the Mayo Clinic
- Hookah smokers are exposed to even more carbon monoxide than cigarette smokers
- Hookah smoke contains the same high levels of toxic compounds, tar, heavy metals and carcinogens as cigarette smoke.
- Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers do because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session, which can last as long as 60 minutes.
According to a study published in August 2012 in the journal Respirology smoking hookah and cigarettes are equally damaging in terms of breathing and lung function.
- a comparison of deep inhalation cigarette smokers and hookah smokers showed similar effects on lung function and respiratory symptoms (chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing).
The CDC(Centers for Disease Control) fact sheet has a section on hookah which compares hookah to cigarettes. It states:
- A typical 1-hour-long hookah smoking session involves inhaling 100–200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette.
- Due to the mode of smoking—including frequency of puffing, depth of inhalation, and length of the smoking session—hookah smokers may absorb higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke
The CDC goes on to state that hookah smokers are at risk for the same cancers and respiratory diseases as cigarette smokers and ends by concluding that Hookah smoking is NOT a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.
The Bottom Line
Listen up if you are someone who frequents hookah lounges or is thinking of doing so. Pay attention also if you are the parent of a young teen. Hookah, Shisha, whatever you call it, is a nicotine delivery system that has all the risks associated with smoking cigarettes and then some.
There is lots of information around about this. I've included a section of some of the more informative links to hookah articles online and a simple search will turn up many more. If you are college bound or have a child who is, check out as much information as you can. Going to a hookah lounge may seem like a fun and slightly exotic social thing to do, and it may be just that, but if you get into the habit, you could be making a decision that will cast a very long shadow.
If you enjoyed this article, I hope you will want to check out my other hubs on quitting smoking. If you are a smoker or ex smoker, or just a person with an opinion or a story of your own on this topic, please feel free to share in the comments section at the end of this article.
My aim is not to preach or pass judgement. I feel strongly that smoking is a choice, not a moral issue. But for those who are smoking because they have to, not because they want to, or who are just starting to experiment with tobacco, I offer the facts and a warning, as well as my own personal experience for whatever all that is worth.
I was a heavy smoker for more than 30 years . It took me many tries and many years to quit, but I finally and have been smoke free for over a decade. I am not a doctor or scientist. I'm just someone who smoked fifty or sixty cigarettes a day for more than 30 years and who doesn't have to do that anymore. I've learned a lot about nicotine addiction and the process of quitting and I just want to pass it on to anyone who might find it useful.
Online Articles and Resources
- How Unhealthy is Smoking Hookah?
- Shisha smoking is hazardous and its acquisition, use should be limited
Studies that have examined shisha smokers and the aerosol of shisha smoke have reported high concentrations of carbon monoxide, nicotine, “tar,” and heavy metals.
- Hookah Smoking Replacing Cigarettes?
Young Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes, but researchers say that progress is threatened by an increasingly popular cultural import -- the tall, ornate water pipe known as the hookah.
- You Know Smoking Hookah is Just as Bad if Not Worse than Cigarettes,Right?
why smoking hookah is not safer than smoking cigarettes and some facts to back that up.
- Hookah Facts [PDF]
facts and links on everything from history and origins to health consequences of hookah in pdf format