Hookah: A drug gone un-warned

November 23, 2008
By Rachel L. Karp, El Cajon, CA

Ever since I was a child, my parents warned me about the dangers of drugs and constantly persuaded, no, commanded me not to use them. They usually just spoke to me about alcohol and cigarettes, but I knew that there were other, much more horrifying drugs out there, and I knew to stay away from those as well.

As I grew older and entered into high school, my parents eventually mentioned these other, much more fatal drugs to me. Both of my parents lived through the sixties and were fully aware of what teenagers did with drugs. They told me what could happen to me if I started using now -- that all my hopes and dreams could vanish in a single instant.

This reassurance from my parents that drugs were bad has led me to lead a drug free life. I have never once taken a puff from anything puffable, a snort from anything snortable, or a drink from anything drinkable. I know that snorting cocaine will rot my sinuses out. I know that marijuana will turn me into a vegetable. I know that alcohol will chew up my liver. And I know that all of those things, including the dozens of others that I haven’t mentioned, can all kill me. I know all of this because my parents talked to me about it.

There is one drug, however, that my parents didn’t ever speak to me about. This is hookah. Hookah is a flavored tobacco that is smoked through a hose connected a device called a bong. When the hookah is placed in the bond and lit, the smoke that emanates from it travels through the water that the bong is filled with, through the hose, and into the smoker’s mouth and lungs. Smoking hookah is legal and many people, especially those in high school and college, love to indulge in it.

Even though my parents never spoke to me about hookah, I have never smoked it. As I said before, I lead a clean life and any sort of drug, no matter its legality or form, appalls me. Thus, it appalls me to see teens my age, my friends even, who are fully aware of the dangers of drugs and detest them to their fullest, smoke hookah.

Some teens argue that they smoke hookah because it is safe, or at least safer than smoking cigarettes or marijuana. Unfortunately, they are wrong; smoking hookah is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.

According to the article “Dangers of hookah smoking” posted by Harvard Health Publications, “Researchers have found that hookah smokers inhale more often and for longer periods than typical cigarette smokers. Scientists estimate that by puffing longer and in greater volume, a water pipe smoker inhales the equivalent of 100 cigarettes or more during a single water pipe session.”

One-hundred cigarettes. For the teens I know that cringe at the thought of smoking even one Marlboro, this should come as a slap in the face. As educated beings in the twenty-first century, most teens know the harmful effects of cigarette smoke upon the smoker and the surrounding bystanders. Prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to emphysema and other lung diseases, so why would teens (or anyone, for that matter) willingly inhale hookah smoke which is 100 times worse than the smoke from a single cigarette?

Along with the smoke, when teens inhale hookah from a bong, they are also inhaling the addicting chemical called nicotine, which is more commonly associated with cigarettes. Since the hookah smoke passes through the water that fills the bong, many smokers think that the nicotine and other harmful chemicals of the hookah are filtered out through the process. They have been deceived.
Steven J. Gallegos, the tobacco prevention and control coordinator of the American Lung Association of California, said in an articled titled “Familiar smoking dangers found in hookah use” published by UCLA’s Daily Bruin, “…The water is nothing more than a conduit between the tobacco and the mouth -- you’re still getting the same poisons from the tobacco and smoke.”
By smoking hookah, some users are unaware that they are inhaling nicotine. Because of this, if they smoke it in excess, they have the potential of becoming nicotine addicts.
“Scientists are primarily concerned that the social appeal and misconceptions of hookah smoking will lead to a greater number of people becoming addicted to nicotine and that hookah users may eventually become cigarette smokers,” stated “Familiar smoking dangers found in hookah use.” It looks as if the teens I know who loathe the thought of putting their lips to a cigarette may actually succumb to their worst fear if they don’t kick the habit of smoking hookah now.

The other main reason why teens are fond of smoking hookah is because it is legal for persons 18 or older, at least in California. However, cigarettes are legal for persons 18 or over to smoke as well. So why choose hookah over cigarettes if it is just as legal and just as lethal as cigarettes?

The answer is because hookah is more socially acceptable. In today’s world, we see smoking cigarettes becoming a banned practice everywhere from the beaches to restaurants -- it seems as if the only refuge for a cigarette smoker these days is in their own home. Hookah, however, according to a pamphlet by California’s Clean Air Project, is only banned in workplaces. If a person wants to smoke it, they can go anywhere else they want. Bars have even been set up with the sole purpose of smoking hookah -- you don’t see too much of that in cigarette-ville.

Due to the social acceptability of hookah, teens are drawn to smoking it more than they are to smoking cigarettes. They figure if they smoke cigarettes, their parents will get mad, their friends will shun them, and eventually, like every other drug their parents have warned them about, they’ll die. If they smoke hookah however, their friends will think they are cool and most likely join in with them, they won’t die because they do not know the dangers of hookah smoking, and if they don’t tell their parents, well, they’ll never know nothing is askew.

For example, if Jimmy’s parents ask, “Jimmy? Why does your breath smell like apples?” Jimmy can respond, “Because Mike gave me some apple-flavored gum.” The issue of flavored hookah tobacco never comes to mom and dad’s mind.

One thing I see many of my friends who smoke hookah doing is taking photos of themselves while they are at a hookah bar smoking, and then post them to their Myspace pages. When I discover this, I see beautiful, intelligent girls with all the potential in the world mortally wounding their possibilities of being accepted into Harvard or being hired as a fashion photographer for Vogue. Posting self-incriminating photos like that on Myspace can cost any person their future career or acceptance letter; it’s a well known fact mentioned to outgoing high school seniors over and over again before they apply to colleges.

Also when I see these girls posting pictures of themselves smoking hookah on Myspace, I see them turning into unattractive slobs.

For all my life I have viewed smoking as being unattractive. Even when I see a beautiful woman smoking, I consider her to be unattractive. I know a lot of men who would never date a woman who smokes as well. This brings a question to mind whenever I see a photo of a friend smoking: does she think smoking makes her attractive? I hope she realizes that it doesn’t, for having grey smoke drifting from her nostrils and a glazed “I’m higher than a kite” look in her eyes really doesn’t scream class or beauty.

The same goes with all the teenage boys I see posting photos of their smoking selves. While they may be thinking “I’m so totally cool right now,” I’m thinking “You’re so totally feeding the stereotype that all men are pigs right now.”

Whether teens smoke hookah because they think it’s safe, legal, or more socially acceptable than smoking cigarettes, they are making a poor decision. Smoking hookah is just as legal and just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, and even if they may think they look cool while doing it, they look like big pea brains to everyone else.

Teens need to think before they decide to smoke hookah. And parents should start talking to them about its dangers. After all, if they care enough about their kids to go over some of the drugs out there in life, they may as well go over them al; skipping over a drug, even one as acceptable as hookah, is not worth the risk of losing a child to addictive behaviors or even the injustices of society.

The author's comments:
I'm an aspiring novelist and poet and have just recently finished writing my first book (as of yet, un-published). I am a Freshman in College and I hope to one day become the Editor-in-Chief of my own magazine.

The fad of teen posting incriminating photos of themselves on Myspace is what stirred me to write this article. I am often irked by my friends who decide to either talk about themselves smoking hookah or post pictures of themselves doing it. I hope this can persuade some teens to make better choices and stay away from this socially acceptable drug.

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This article has 33 comments.


MikeM said...
on Mar. 13 2015 at 7:36 pm
The best advice I can give you is to go forward into the world knowing that most people have their own agendas and motives - even your parents. Most published data and statistics are skewed by people with agendas - even when written in professional papers. 100x the nicotine? That's so beyond ridiculous that it's not even worth my time to check the credibility of the source. I have that liberty because I'm choosing not to believe what I've just been told. People who choose to believe what they read should always check credibility. They should always cross reference the facts. They should always get the spin from both sides of the argument. It seems like you read into all the reasons why drugs are bad. You should also do the research on why the same drugs are ok/neutral and why they are good. Not because you should be convincing yourself that drugs are ok, but to convince yourself of the truth after having heard everyone's opinion.

HAfail said...
on Mar. 13 2015 at 5:42 pm
Hahah, who wants to go smoke some hookah? Whoever made this doesn't know shit! Probably cuz they haven't done any drugs, I have and I'm not saying there all good, I know a lot of them are bad but atleast I've done some of them and know more than you. This is just dumb, go learn your facts and stop telling teens lies

Nick said...
on Jan. 28 2015 at 12:51 am
I apologize, I should have finished the article before posting... The entire thing is ignorant and asinine. I have never seen so much misinformation in one place.

Nick said...
on Jan. 28 2015 at 12:47 am
The first two pages of this may just be the stupidest thing I've ever read.

Sue Kay said...
on Aug. 22 2014 at 12:47 am
0.1mg of tobacco can kill you. It's disturbing to know that so many teens are using it. The article is great. I 'm a teacher, just also did a quiz for my high sch. kids on 30/6 NO-Tobacco Day. Once Tobacco gets into your blood stream it forms toxins and attacks your CNS> Don't experiment. U have 1 life. Its not worth a gamble.

James212 said...
on Jul. 19 2014 at 4:16 am
You're very misinformed.  Hookah smoke does contained incredibly high amounts of tar, comparable to about 84 cigarettes per bowl.  Do some research before you spew your ignorance.  Oh, and I've been smoking shisha for years now.  Just not living in denial. 

darth said...
on Jun. 8 2014 at 8:14 pm
Reading this makes me wanna puke. Written by somebody who is unable to look critically, has no experience and possesses very limited, cherrypicked (by educational system or parents) knowledge on the matter. Sugar and coffee are also drugs. Not to mention substances produced by the brain during orgasm or while sleeping. The air in city centers is way more polluted than a smoker's house in the woods. And so on. The world is full of  "demonic" chemicals.. ..and everyone dies eventually,. Even If You try to live super healthy (whatever that means, definition changes every season), You can still get cancer, die in a traffic accident or get an anaphylactic shock after getting stung by a random vasp flying by.

shishagirl said...
on Apr. 20 2014 at 11:57 pm
There are so many different types of hookah tobacco.  There are types with tobacco, which do contain nicotine.  But that type only contains .5mg per bowl, where as ONE cigarette contains 9mg.  There are also types that don't have any tobacco or nicotine at all.  Those types are called herbal shisha. 

Parrot said...
on Feb. 28 2013 at 10:06 pm
herbal makes me nausious and gives me a headache; I'd rather smoke real Shisha thanks. same for most of the people i know. 

CamelCash007 said...
on Feb. 28 2013 at 4:35 pm
This has to be either someone trolling, or one of the most funniest saddest articles I've read in a while. Literally around 50% of this article is false.  Check out reddit.com/r/hookah We'll be more than happy to inform you on everything about hookah. And how it really isn't that dangerous. Even ask your doctor about it. Mine agress that Hookah isn't bad.

on Feb. 28 2013 at 5:00 am
I think all the holes in this article have been sufficiently exposed. So all that's left to say is: Wow.. lol **Nothing's quite so dangerous as an idiot armed with a little bit of information.**

george.white said...
on Feb. 27 2013 at 10:24 pm
"weed turns you into a vegetable"  alcohol and ciggaretes kill thousands of people every year, weed kills.... zero.  yes it make you stupid for the time being, but it doesnt change you what so ever in the long run next time, write you argument on something worth arguing about..... like the rising use of xtc in our youth. 

Alex said...
on Feb. 6 2013 at 6:30 am
Ahh, the good ol' "gateway drug" fallacy.

I suppose that drinking milk led me to the consumtion of alcohol, right? Eating cheese led me to cheetos. Riding a bike led me to driving a car. Right? That's how things work, right? Wrong.

Your son's decision to pick up the nasty habit of cigarette smoking was his own poor decision, and none of his previous indulgences led him towards it. I too used to be a cigarette smoker, but I have since quit after I started up my hookah hobby. I also have an APV (an advanced E-cig for those of you who don't know), and I'm living much healthier. No more coughing up phlegm in the morning, no more headaches, no more sinus infections, etc. It's great, and if it weren't for hookah I wouldn't be as healthy as I am today.

Now I'm not judging any cigarette smokers, but I can say with 100% assurance that smoking shisha is FAR less dangerous and unhealthy as cigarettes. It also doesn't smell so bad.

But lady, don't blame your son's actions on hookahs. It was his own choice to make, and hopefully he can quit before he get's any health issues.

Alex said...
on Feb. 6 2013 at 6:20 am
This article is so full of misinformation it makes my head spin.

First off, it's a HOOKAH, not a bong. You smoke weed out of a bong. There is a stem and a base (remember here again, it's a BASE not a BONG).

1 session equivalent to 100 cigarettes? You've got to be kidding me. The "smoke" inhaled from a hookah is actually a vapor consisting of evaporated glycerin, flavoring, and molasses/honey. You're not burning anything (unless you're doing it wrong), therefore it's not smoke.

Some shisha tobaccos contain nicotine, but many do not. Regardless, nicotine is nowhere near the most harmful chemical in any form of tobacco. Addictive, yes. Harmful? Slightly. However there are also beneficial cognitive effects obtained from nicotine, so I'll take some good with the bad, and if you're not into nicotine? Well, like I said there are nicotine free and also herbal, organic, or even steam stones as an alternative.

I'm not saying there are no health concerns when you're smoking hookah, but they are MINIMAL. Working in a body shop or factory would take a larger toll on your health.

As far as being judgmental and saying that smoking makes you unattractive? How shallow. Do people take pictures of themself on their motorcycles? Riding rollercoasters? Playing guitar? Well, that's because they enjoy those things, right? Well why should it be any different for hookah?

I say you're a very prude and judgmental person, and while I can respect that you care very much about your health, spreading lies and misinformation is something I am VERY strongly against, and you have only made a fool of yourself by posting such garbage.

on Jan. 18 2013 at 4:36 am
90% of hookah smokers smoke flavored herbal Shisha, which has 0% nicotine. Get your facts straight.

on Jan. 11 2013 at 3:49 am
There's such thing as tobacco free shisha which is made of organic recycled fruit. Do your research before you go stereotyping. I know lebanese men nearly 100 years old that have smoked shisha their whole life. This post is just idiotic. & that's my way of being "constructive".

BobyH said...
on Jan. 8 2013 at 10:56 pm
In addition to the other comments that have shed more light on the subject to give a clear view on this subject, I will add a few more facts.

- Over 99% of the smoke from shisha is vapor from the vegetable glycerin injected and soaked into the tobacco, which allows for extraction of the nicotine without burning the actual tobacco. If the tobacco is burning it will be an unpleasant and improper smoking of shisha.
- From the previous fact, yes, Harvard did write an article stating that an average shisha session does involve 100-200 times the amount of smoke of a cigarette, but this "smoke" is the vaporized vegetable glycerin (or propylene glycol at times) AKA food glycerin, which is in quite a LOT of food products, it adds moisture that doesn't evaporate or mold like water does.
  Anything else I have to say has been mostly addressed already. I'm not saying smoking shisha (through a hookah, not a bong), is good for you, but I can definitely say its a lot better than cigarettes or marijuana. Its definitely bad for you, but not AS bad as many other things. Its not actually burning the tobacco, but vaporizing a FDA-approved, widely used food additive whose purpose in these cases, is as a substitute for water. I recommend more research on the topic, but I do admire an article that encourages good health habits and life decisions. I personally smoke hookah, and these are my facts, that is all.

zeraomega said...
on Jan. 6 2013 at 11:12 pm
hello i agree with your article but before u start smashing on a subject u should really research a little, one hookah is the name of the pipe, two what u smoke is called shisha ( commonly called in the U.S  other places it has several names) also ur not not smokeing the tobacco your baking it with the coals the point of the shisha is 2 heat up the glycerin and the flavoring. the tobacco is used as a medium u should know glycerin isnt harmful to people also nicotine evaporates at room temp also shisha has less nicotine then a 250 gram container  then an entire pack of cigs and hookah charcoals only reach to about 250-300 degrees tar forms around 750-800 degrees. im not trying to bash u or anything im just letting u know for future reference

ciqarettes said...
on Dec. 19 2012 at 6:18 pm
well said and completely true

TimHL said...
on Nov. 4 2012 at 9:32 pm
I encourage you to review your article.  Right now, you have some things right, and some wrong. 

1) Shisha is what you smoke. It's toasted, thereby releasing the smoke through the hookah (not a bong, that's for pot). Shisha is the flavored tobacco leaf, hookah is the device used to smoke it. You present some valid information, such as the volume of smoke through hookah use equaling "one hundred cigarettes". What you fail to mention, because of your bias I believe, is that cigarettes contain far more amounts and far more harmful chemicals than shisha does.  This is where you still had me, until you started going off about how girls and guys become unattractive. Then your overgeneralizing just becomes excruciating. You may not find them attractive, but others do. Just because they're unattractive to you, doesn't mean they are to other people.  It's a valid opinion. I don't like cigarette smokers either; it's a negative hit on how attractive somebody is. But you can't extend your opinion to everyone else. Before you become an editor in chief, think about this: Either your magazine will be one known for twisting facts and being somewhat biased, therefore gathering an audience of people very similar to each other, and also alienating others.... Or, your magazine will be known for its efforts to print valid, correct, objective information (except for subjective pieces like editorials).  Nate is right. Your article is misinformed, naive, and self-righteous. I don't have exact numbers, but I know a fair amount of smokers (and people who do harder drugs) who maintain 4.0s and are getting into Harvard and Yale, and have over five figures in the bank saved for college.  If you will use anecdotal and subjective opinions, I will counter with my own. I myself smoke hookah (or rather, shisha, but that is the vernacular around my area), and pull a 3.6, will graduate with more credits than most of my class, an honors diploma, was captain of the traveling varsity team, have given speeches to various corporate executives, and done web development work as a student technician for my school.  My friend, ranked first in our class, set to become valedictorian, known school-wide for his academic skills, has almost his entire freshman year of college (in terms of credits) out of the way due to community college and AP credits, and more, likes LSD and shrooms. He's the (school-acknowledged) hardest and smartest worker of our class. So your argument that participating in drugs, of any kind, will mess you up, falls flat. Unless you can cite objective, cross-sectional or multiple longitudinal studies that say participating in drugs will mess up your life, your only arguments are your anecdotes, personal upbringing, and subjective opinion as to the attractiveness (a quality that is personal in the extreme), and those are all personal things. Your research on smoke volume, hookah/shisha vs cigarettes and marijuana is, at best, incomplete. Your presentation is, at best, incomplete and slightly biased; at worst, self-righteous and will only persuade people who already have the same kind of thinking that you do, which is redundant. 


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