Hung Up on Hookah



Hookah: Social Smoking

From the flavored tobacco to the laid-back atmosphere of the cafes, hookah smoking is a growing trend among college students. Among the chatter of everyday life at Northern Kentucky University, students talk of meeting at one of the local hookah cafes, and some students even use hookahs on campus. Despite the popularity of hookah among college students, speculation on the health aspects of hookah compared to cigarettes is an issue that many users and non-users alike question.

A common misconception about hookah is that it is safer or healthier than smoking cigarettes. “[Hookah] is just as bad as cigarettes,” said Fadi Alhammuri, owner of Aladdin Restaurant and Cafe. “One hookah head (helping of tobacco) is equivalent to ten cigarettes.”

The major factor in the health misconception is that because hookah is typically a social event, three to four people are sharing a hookah in a two- to three-hour period of time, and 90 percent of the time the tobacco is not finished, Alhammuri said. “That’s equivalent to someone smoking two to three cigarettes in two or three hours.”

Because hookah is comparable to cigarettes, the same health risks apply for both. The Oxford Journals completed a study on the overall health effects that hookah smoking has on one’s health. The study found that it was significantly associated with lung cancer, respiratory illness, low birth-weight and periodontal disease.

While the tobacco used in hookah contains nicotine and tar, the amounts detected in the smoke after it passes through the basin of water are barely detectable. “I feel it’s better than cigarettes because it’s non-addictive and I don’t get cravings for it,” said Taylor Stanley, a freshman at NKU.

Because of the water acting as a filtration system, even non-smokers shouldn’t be bothered by the hookah. Unlike cigarettes, which over a period of time stain teeth, nails and absorbent white surfaces like ceiling panels, hookah smoke will never stain, according to Alhammuri, who has been a hookah smoker for ten years now.

A recent ABC news article included a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University biopsychology and health psychology professor Thomas Eissenberg. The study claimed that a typical 45-minute session of smoking hookah is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.

However, Alhammuri believes that this data could be from those users who actually inhale the smoke from the hookah. “That’s the misconception a lot of people have; you aren’t supposed to inhale.”

The lack of inhaling combined with the filtration of tar and nicotine can means that a user has a lesser chance of becoming addicted. “I smoke it like once a week,” said Laura Will, an NKU sophomore and owner of a personal hookah. “I don’t get addicted to it, so I don’t need to smoke every day”

Hookahs and their products can be purchased in stores such as Tala’s Distant Treasures in the Florence Mall and Newport on the Levee, but those looking to go out and smoke in a relaxed environment visit hookah cafes. In the cafes, hookahs are circulated among different groups of customers, as well as shared among friends.

An American Lung Association article, titled “Hookah Smoking: A Growing Threat to Public Health,” states that “[T]he use of shared mouthpieces during smoking sessions can spread infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, herpes, influenza and hepatitis.”

In his ten years smoking, Alhammuri has never gotten sick from his hookah use and assures that the cleaning process is comprehensive enough to negate any health hazards like what was mentioned in the article. After every use, Aladdin Restaurant and Cafe dismantles the hookah completely to wash it, proceeds with sterilizing the tip of the hose with sanitizing wipes and also hands out one personal mouthpiece for every customer smoking.

For many, the socialization that comes with smoking hookah is reason enough to continue. “I smoke hookah because it is an enjoyable social experience,” said Stanley, adding, “and it’s relatively inexpensive.”