The Health Risks of Hookah Smoking
Monday, November 2 2015 Kira Lesley
Despite its health risks, hookah smoking is growing in popularity across the United States and many other countries (Treatment For Nicotine Addiction). Hookah smokers, and the general public, often believe that the practice is virtually harmless, but both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic state that hookah smoking has several health risks and is not safer than cigarette smoking.
What is Hookah Smoking and What Health Risks Does It Pose?
Hookah is a water pipe that employs coals to deliver highly-addictive nicotine, which is usually flavored with something sweet like vanilla, cherry, strawberry or mint. It originated in Persia and India centuries ago but has become increasingly popular in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East over the last few years. Smoking hookah is a communal experience and traditionally the pipe has one mouthpiece, which is passed from person to person (although some hookahs have multiple mouth pieces).
When I was in my teens and early 20s, the common knowledge I was exposed to about hookah was that it was much safer than cigarettes, the nicotine level was very low, and the water filtered out the toxins. While some recent studies have disproved these ideas, and some government organizations have begun public health campaigns warning of the habit's health risks, I believe the public's understanding of hookah is still largely misinformed.
Hookah Smoking and Health Risks
Hookah smoking poses significant risks to your health. Personally, I was shocked to read just how bad for your health the practice is. The CDC lists the following risks, among others:
- The charcoal used to heat the vapor produces high levels of carbon monoxide, metals, and other cancer-causing agents.
- Tobacco juices increase the risk of oral cancers.
- Hookah juices and smoke contain several toxic agents known to increase the risk of lung, bladder and oral cancers.
- High levels of toxins remain in the smoke even after it passes through the water.
Besides the increased risk for cancer, smoking hookah presents other health risks. The passing of the mouthpiece can spread infection and babies born to hookah smokers are at increased risk for respiratory diseases and low birth weight.
Hookah and Addiction Risk
Contrary to what many people believe (and what I used to believe), smoking hookah usually delivers at least as much nicotine as cigarettes. Nicotine is highly addictive, so even people who do not smoke cigarettes can become addicted to nicotine--and may even become addicted to smoking cigarettes--as a result of smoking hookah. Statistics from the CDC note that in the average hookah session, a smoker takes 200 puffs and inhales 90,000 milliliters (ml) of smoke. By contrast, the average cigarette smoker takes 20 puffs and inhales 500-600 ml of smoke per cigarette. Of course, many cigarette smokers use multiple cigarettes daily. Even so, with these inhalation statistics, it would take a pack-a-day smoker nine days to inhale as much smoke as one takes in during a one hour hookah session.
I have not smoked hookah since I quit smoking cigarettes almost five years ago. I had no idea that hookah contained as much nicotine as it does, but I knew the act of taking smoke into my lungs would be very triggering for my nicotine addiction. Ultimately, we live in a society where people are allowed to make choices affecting their own health. But in order to make informed choices about activities such as hookah smoking, we need accurate knowledge of its potential risks.