Hookah, or Sheesha bars and cafes are popping up more frequently throughout Southern Ontario, promoted as a social activity that is safer than cigarette smoking. The truth is that using a bong; water pipe or hookah is as unhealthy as smoking a cigarette. It can be more harmful.
A hookah is essentially a water pipe with an integrated smoke chamber attached to a large hook with a hose attachment. Tobacco placed in the hookah is heated by charcoal, and the resulting smoke is passed through the water-filled chamber, cooling the smoke before it reaches the smoker. Contrary to popular belief, the water within the hookah in no way acts as a filter for the toxic components in tobacco smoke, and the tobacco in a hookah pipe is just as toxic as tobacco contained in a standard cigarette.
A recent study demonstrated that hookah smoking had similar effects on lung function and respiratory symptoms (chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing) in water pipe smokers and cigarette smokers. As new research starts to emerge about hookah or sheesha smoking, evidence to date presents many health concerns:
While water does absorb some of the nicotine as it passes through the water chamber, the nicotine levels in hookah smoke are just as likely to cause nicotine dependence as cigarette smoke. Other heavy metals, carbon monoxide and tar are also present, and the lack of a filter increases exposure to these harmful carcinogens.
Marketed as a social event, a typical session lasts about an hour, compared to 5 minutes for a cigarette. As a result, hookah smokers may actually inhale larger volumes of tobacco smoke – in part, as a result of inhaling deeper, and smoking for longer periods of time. During this time, the smoker inhales up to 100 to 150 times more smoke, increasing the levels of toxins such as carbon monoxide and tar absorbed by the body.
Many hookah smokers prefer the hookah to standard cigarettes because it is easier to inhale and lasts longer than cigarette smoking. Although the water does cool down the smoke, it encourages users to smoke for longer periods of time and inhale deeper. Those who smoke from a hookah pipe are exposed to higher levels of smoke and carbon monoxide than cigarette smokers.
Just as with cigarette smoking, hookah smoking is associated with increased risk of heart disease, oral and lung cancers as well as other vascular-related diseases.
Moreover, sharing a hookah pipe, or bong, can increase a person’s risk of catching a communicable disease such as hepatitis, herpes, the common flu as well as a variety of other respiratory illnesses.
Hookah smoking is as harmful to your lungs and heart as smoking cigarettes – the claim that “hookah is a healthy alternative to smoking” is simply not true.