Straight, No Chaser: Hookahs and Health

I love the responses I get from you. Even the spam is entertaining. Most recently, when I posted this, the most common response was some variation of this theme: “What’s a hookah? Is it slang for what I think it is, and how would you smoke it?”


Actually, your demonstration that you aren’t familiar with hookahs is reflective of the ever-present gaps parents have regarding what their teens are doing. Hookahs (aka hubble-bubble, narghile, shisha and goza) are water pipes that are used to smoke flavored tobacco. It’s a long-standing phenomena, going back centuries in India and ancient Persia. I bet you didn’t know that’s what Jabba the Hut was doing in the original Star Wars!
It’s popularity is increasing among teens and young adults all around the world. In the US alone, 17% of boys and 15% of girls state they have used a hookah in the past year, according to surveys reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Studies of college students show past-year usage ranging from 22% to 40%.
Let’s answer some common questions about hookahs.


Why is this necessary? Why would anyone do this?
There are many reasons for this, including the peer bonding and socialization aspects. This is facilitated by group sharing of the hookah, which is typically passed from person to person. Hookah tobacco comes in many different flavors, such as apple, cappuccino, cherry, chocolate, coconut, licorice, mint and watermelon. Once the decision has been made to participate in the activity, it really isn’t that hard to find a flavor to your liking.

hookah chemical levels

Is hookah use safer than cigarette smoking?
No. Hookah smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. It has several of the same health risks as cigarette smoking.
What are the adverse health effects from hookah smoking?

  • The charcoal used to heat the tobacco can raise health risks by producing high levels of carbon monoxide, metals and cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Even after it has passed through water, the smoke from a hookah has high levels of these toxic agents.
  • Hookah tobacco and smoke contain several toxic agents known to cause lung, bladder and oral cancers.
  • Tobacco juices from hookahs irritate the mouth and increase the risk of developing oral cancers.

Are there other concerns about using hookahs?

  • Hookah tobacco and smoke contain many toxic agents that can cause clogged arteries and heart disease.
  • Infections may be passed to other smokers by sharing a hookah.
  • Babies born to women who smoked water pipes every day while pregnant weigh less at birth (at least 3½ ounces less) than babies born to nonsmokers.
  • Babies born to hookah smokers are also at increased risk for respiratory diseases.

Here’s your bottom line. If you’re involved in hookah smoking, you’re smoking, and should consider yourself to have a similar risk profile as a cigarette or cigar smoker.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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