They've popped up all over the Tampa Bay area, coffee houses and restaurants that advertise hookah, the puffing of flavored tobacco from bowl-shaped water pipes that used to be mostly the domain of the Middle East and then later, part of the Western drug culture of the '60s. Smoking from a hookah was a social activity in ancient days, the same draw that's leading high school and college students to it today.
For some students such as Sundus Alfe, a King High junior with Middle Eastern heritage, hookah is part of family culture.
"I do hookah maybe once a month. I know that there are negative effects, but it tastes good so I do it anyway. And also," Alfe said, "I can't remember a time when my family and friends would get together without a hookah being there."
Two students with no cultural connection to hookah talked about the practice but asked that their names not be used. One said she had done hookah six times. "But I don't exactly love doing it, and the health effects are a reason I try to not do it often."
The other mentioned the social aspects. "I've done hookah only once. I remember having fun while doing it because the cafe had cool lights, comfy chairs and Middle Eastern music and I was there with a lot of my friends. But I felt really nauseous afterwards because I took too many hits from the hookah in a short amount of time." But he says he doesn't think the experience will stop him. "If anything, I've learned that next time I just have to control my intake."
Teenagers (you have to be 18, or be with an adult to partake) are getting hooked on hookah, at sidewalk cafes after dinner or other places that purvey the sometimes ornate bowls with hoses and pipes. Contrary to popular thought, however, smoking through this delivery system is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.
Here's a hookah primer, for the uninitiated as well as the user who may not be aware of the facts.
What is a hookah?
A hookah is a water pipe that is used to vaporize flavored tobacco, known as shisha. Charcoal-heated air passes through a tobacco mixture and then a water basin, which often gives people the wrong impression that it filters toxins from the tobacco. The smoker inhales from a hose attached to the device, then passes the hose to the next smoker who inhales with or without changing tips on the hose.
Why is it so popular?
It's relatively easy to find, especially with some restaurants (the Acropolis) offering it on their menus. You must be 18 or have an adult with you, but ID is not always requested. It's also fairly inexpensive. Some cafes charge by the shisha ($10-20 per round), or by person ($2-5 per person per hour). And, in what some users report, it gives you a pleasant buzz in a social atmosphere.
Is hookah safer than cigarettes?
No. The American Cancer Society warns against it, and is concerned about the prevalence of misinformation about its dangers. Here are some things the American Cancer Society (cancer.org) wants you to know:
- Hookah tobacco has the same addictive properties as cigarettes, and can lead a hookah user to smoke cigarettes;
- It contains significant amounts of cancer-causing ingredients, such as arsenic, cobalt, chromium and lead, and may also contain charcoal or wood cinder combustion products, which can increase cancer- and heart-disease- causing agents in the smoke;
- Hookah users may inhale more smoke than cigarette smokers because hookah sessions often last an hour or more, during which hookah users inhale not only firsthand hookah smoke but also that of the other smokers.
- Hookah tobacco generates heart disease-causing carbon monoxide in amounts equal to or greater than cigarette smoke.
Supporting that, a study conducted by S. Katharine Hammond, chairwoman of the division of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, found that carbon monoxide levels increased dramatically in rooms where subjects smoked from hookahs. Although cigarettes contain toxic chemicals not present in shisha, the exhaled carbon monoxide in hookah smokers is three times that of cigarette smokers. It can lead to increased chances of acquiring asthma and similar lung diseases.
The American Cancer Society also points out that sharing the hookah can increase the risk of contracting a communicable disease, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis or meningitis.