Hookah health effect myths go up in smoke
Published: Monday, December 3, 2007
Updated: Sunday, July 19, 2009 04:07
Hookahs are escalating in popularity all over the United States, including the university campus, which has sparked discussion among officials regarding the health effects of hookah smoking, especially in comparison to cigarettes.
Hookahs are passed around in circles at university-sponsored events such as Israel Fest and casually puffed outside residence halls such as the Gilbert complex.
An advisory released by the World Health Organization in 2005 stated a person potentially inhales the equivalent of 100 cigarettes in a 40 minute hookah session.
According to the WHO advisory, the frequent use of hookahs is associated with addiction derived from this small amount of nicotine. This is contrary to popular belief about the benign effect of small traces of nicotine found in hookah smoke.
The low levels of nicotine in hookah smoke allow smokers to inhale more smoke, exposing them to higher levels of other toxins and chemicals, such as carbon monoxide and heavy metals. The advisory states that hookah smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking.
Nursing professor, Bethany Hall-Long, said smoking is the number one contributing factor to lung cancer, and is a leading cause of respiratory and heart disease in all age groups.
"Smoking is a contributor to second-hand smoke, allergies and asthma," Hall-Long said.
Sophomore nursing major Caitlyn White said she continuously reminds her smoker roommate of the hazardous effects of smoking.
White said smoking inflames the airways and can cause chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The chronic inflammation caused by smoking affects the cells which can cause cancer.
She said warnings against smoking anything should target harmful medical effects above all else.
"Whether it's cigarettes, weed or hookah, it affects your body in a negative way," White said.
Many health advisories against the use of tobacco are already in effect.
Patricia Drake, a nursing professor, said public information on smoking provided by the National Lung Association and warning labels on cigarette packages should be sufficient information for people to refuse smoking.
She said increased risk of lung cancer is of primary concern for all smokers.
Senior and hookah smoker Zachary Fry stated in an e-mail message that he thinks smoking hookahs is as dangerous, if not worse, than smoking cigarettes, because they lack filters. Yet, Fry said he continues to indulge in the Middle Eastern tradition approximately once every two weeks.
Smoking hookah is a social activity that is not difficult to lure others into, he said.
"It seems like whenever you break out the hookah theres always a crowd of people interested in it and willing to try it," Fry said.
Junior Conrad Pflumm, a plant science major, said he started the Stony Brook Shisha Society at Stony Brook University, where he previously attended. Pflumm said the club was successful in petitioning for money from the school to fund hookah smoking sessions on the quad. When he arrived at the University of Delaware, he quickly found other shisha lovers.
"I brought my hookah to the Green and people would pop over to smoke," he said.
Pflumm said he believes smoking hookah is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
"There's absolutely no tar and very small amounts of nicotine," he said.
Pflumm said a hookah is operated by packing shisha, molasses-dipped tobacco, into a clay bowl, covering it with tin foil and adding charcoal on top. When you light the charcoal and inhale through the hose of the hookah, the tobacco burns and smoke is pulled down and filtered through the water. The smoke then flows up through the tube, and finally into your mouth and lungs. He said he enjoys the mellow, light-headed feeling that results from the process.
Yana Babii, manager of Mirage Café and Grill in Frederick, Md., said hookah bars are not currently required to post any health warnings against smoking hookah, but that customers should be aware of possible dangers.
"The same advisories against smoking cigarettes should be in effect," Babii said.
If such warnings were to be mandated by law, she said she does not think they would compromise business.
"I think we would get just as many customers, because there are so many health advisories about smoking cigarettes and still there are millions of people who smoke," Babii said.
Lisa Lawrence, waitress at Horus, a restaurant and hookah bar in Manhattan, said the appeal of smoking hookah draws a young crowd to the restaurant.
"People think it's cool," Lawrence said. "They feel like they're smoking something that will make them high without actually getting high," she said.
Some people enjoy the light-headed sensation that quickly follows hookah puffs, Lawrence said.
She said she thinks smoking hookah is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. The lack of nicotine in hookah prevents addiction, and the fruity flavors provide for smoother inhalation.
Horus indulges almost all ages of legal smokers, she said, with 60-year-olds being the oldest. The weekends usually bring in the younger crowds, with 18- to 30-year-old smokers showing up most often.
Lawrence said she doesn't know if any health advisories against hookah smoking are in place, but doubts any such warnings would hurt business.
"Since we have younger people come, they're less likely to listen [to health advisories]," she said.
"It's kind of a big trend, Lawrence said. "You go out at night and have dinner and smoke hookah. It's the cool thing to do."