I must admit that ever since my first A level class I couldn’t help but feel that ‘behind the flow’ of a lot of things – and I’m obviously not talking about educational stuff. Now I admit most fads aren’t always good and we shouldn’t always follow them blindly. It must also be stated that even the more popular fads aren’t followed by everyone. Most fads don’t even last long.
However the sheer number of people involved in the recent ‘Hookah smoking fad’ from my own circle of friends alone has got me thinking much more about it than I would have otherwise – Is Hookah smoking really harmless. And even if we consider them harmful are they LESS harmful than Cigarette smoking?
Those are the questions that led to me to use/waste (chose the most appropriate) a couple of hours of not only my time but also that of a several people in order to properly evaluate, analyze and answer them.
Starting off, let us talk about one of the most basic questions:
Do water-pipes (Hookah as they are locally called) contain any tobacco?
There are many people in the society, particularly teenagers, who are convinced that ‘Shisha’ actually has no tobacco in it – and that it’s completely ‘safe’. I’ll be coming to the point on safety soon enough but as for whether it actually has tobacco in it or not – well sorry to burst your bubble but it DOES contain tobacco. If your friends or the Lounge-people have been telling you otherwise then I am even sorrier to inform you that YOU’VE BEEN PUNKED. Just Google it if you don’t believe me.
There has been some confusion regarding “Shisha” and ‘Hookah’. Although it might be general knowledge that Hookah has tobacco in it, a large number of people claim that ‘Shisha’ is tobacco free (being simple flavored smoke). This time however the Internet betrayed me. I could find almost NOTHING distinguishing between Shisha and Hookah. And not being a user of either I cannot verify either of the claims. But those who HAVE tried it can easily judge for themselves:
Do you crave for Shisha all the time? Does not smoking Shisha regularly cause you mental or physical distress? Are you spending more and more time in Shisha lounges even if you don’t really want to? If you answered ‘yes’ on the preceding questions then, my friend, the ‘Shisha’ you are smoking, DOES indeed contain Tobacco (or at least Nicotine in some form, and we all know where THAT comes from). If the belief that Shisha has no tobacco content at all was your only reason for smoking Hookah than you need not read further.
However if you have no problem with the ‘minor’ concentration of tobacco in Hookah/Shisha and are convinced it’s not a problem then please continue reading.
Time to answer the more pressing question.
Is Hookah smoking ‘safer’ than smoking a cigarette?
To answer that let us consider several facts
- Firstly - whether or not the water actually filters the harmful chemicals in the tobacco.
Well to be frank there has been no scientific evidence presented as of yet that either proves this theory. There is no scientific evidence that suggests that water actually acts as a solvent medium for the impurities present in smoking as Dr. Thomas Eissenberg, associate professor, department of psychology and Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University stated in his interview which can be viewed at the Hookah Lounge Blog. The amount of Nicotine and other carcinogenic chemicals present is just the same in the smoke that passes through a water pipe as it is in the smoke we directly inhale.
So the point of water ‘purifying’ impurities becomes invalid at worst and not very likely at best
- Secondly - whether or not there are more harmful substances in a Cigarette than in a Hookah
Once again I refer to Dr. Thomas Eissenberg for the facts. Waterpipes (Hookahs) are used for periods that can last for 30-45 minutes, while a single cigarette is smoked for about 5 minutes. The average puff on a waterpipe produces about 500 ml of smoke, while the average puff on a cigarette produces about 50 ml of smoke.
A hookah smoker can take about 100 puffs when he/she uses a waterpipe (i.e., in a single 30-45 minute session) while a cigarette smoker can manage about 10 puffs.
A waterpipe use episode can involve some 100 puffs of 500 ml of smoke each, or 50,000 ml of smoke (or 50 liters). A cigarette use episode can involve some 10 puffs of 50 ml each, or 500 ml (0.5 liters).
With all this in mind, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there is more nicotine in waterpipe smoke, and you are right – one study shows that the smoke form a waterpipe, produced as though a human were smoking it, contains about 2.96 mg nicotine. Similar studies with cigarettes show that cigarette smoke contains about 1.74 mg nicotine.
The difference is not as big as you’d think, given the huge difference in volume of smoke produced, ml for ml. There is less nicotine in waterpipe smoke than in cigarette smoke, though there is MORE nicotine in the smoke produced from a single waterpipe session (which lasts about 30-45 minutes) than is produced from a single cigarette (5 minutes).
Of course, the nicotine in tobacco smoke isn’t the culprit behind cancer and cardiovascular diseases. For that, you have to look at “tar” (actually, nicotine free, dry particulate matter, or NFDPM) and carbon monoxide (CO.) The same studies show that waterpipe smoke contains 802 mg tar compared to 22.3 mg for cigarettes, and 145 mg CO, compared to 17.3 mg for cigarettes. Thus, a single waterpipe use episode (lasting 30-45 minutes) can yield slightly more nicotine than a single cigarette, and about 36 times the tar and 8 times the CO.
Please note that these facts are the good Doctor’s and not mine – so I think you can be quite certain that at least these facts are more or less accurate enough to be considered true.
Next up let’s deal with another prime argument that comes from those defending Hookahs; The fact that Hookah contains only 30% tobacco and 70% artificial flavoring.
Even if I were to consider that fact true I would be quite worried about the flavoring agents itself. Artificial dyes, chemical aromatics, the list goes on…Quite a few of them might (and probably DO) have harmful properties – maybe they would have been negligible if you ate them. But since you ARE inhaling them…best not to think too much about it too much…
So, in the end are Hookahs harmful?
YES , the facts say. No amount of flavoring and water ‘filtration’ can in the end remove the bad aspects of Tobacco
Are Hookah’s more harmful than cigarettes ?
Maybe…though there are facts to support this there are also almost equal number of facts to refute this. Only time and more tests can reveal the true answer. However for those who don’t smoke cigarettes yet, and chose Hookah as a ‘safer’ alternative – be warned. Hookah might not be as safe as you think it to be.
If you have read this note till this point I thank you for your patience. Most people wouldn’t like reading about how harmful something is and how people are always trying to dissuade you from doing stuff etc…but you must understand that was never my goal.
The purpose of this note was simply to inform people of the dangers of smoking Hookah – maybe some of my facts are wrong, but if they are I heartily welcome you to post the correct information or your own views in the comment section.
If this article can convince at least ONE person to at least re-consider their actions before taking their first puff from a Water-pipe then I would know that my task was not in vain.
Thank you dear readers and thank you Gawos bhaia, Yousuf bhaia, Taha bhaia, Ryan bhaia, Tahmed Adnan bhaia and Tahmid SBS P) for answering my questions regarding Hookah.