By Joshua Smith, hookahclouds.com
Thursday, February 27th, 2014 11:00 AM CST
Just google “hookah” and you will find quite a few journal articles on the health impacts of hookah. Many of these maintain that hookah is worse for you than cigarettes. On the other hand, there are some people that maintain that hookah is virtually harmless. So who is telling the truth? Between the strong advocates of hookah and the anti-tobacco lobbyists, the truth is somewhere in the middle but both sides are neglecting serious facts.
At Cloud 9 Hookah, we aren’t scientists or doctors, but what we are is experienced in over 7 years of hookah smoking and knowledge. I dare say anyone has more knowledge on the logistics and inner workings of the hookah and how it impacts one’s health. We are going to look at the various claims about hookah, and try to debunk the junk.
First, hookah is not the safest practice in the world. Enjoying tobacco in any form carries certain risks that can’t be overlooked. But let’s take a look at some of the statements floating out there:
- MYTH #1: “Hookah smoke is filtered through water, therefore it removes the properties in the smoke, making it clean.” This simply is not true. The purpose of the water is to cool the smoke so that the draw is smoother. After every hookah ordered in the lounge, we empty the water and clean out the base. But for my own personal enjoyment, I could smoke 3 bowls with the same water in the base, and there would be no discoloration. The water might pick up some of the past flavors, making it difficult to enjoy new flavors, so this is largely why we change out the water each time.
- MYTH #2: “Hookah is highly addictive.” Our most regular customers might come in 3-4 times a week and enjoy one hookah session each time. I smoke more regularly than anybody… currently I smoke about 2-3 bowls a night, 3-4 nights a week. Before we hired a staff and were in the lounge more frequently, I would smoke 3 bowls a night on top of starting all the hookahs for the lounge. I smoke hookah frequently because it is readily available and because I enjoy the practice. You could easily label me as a heavy hookah smoker. But when we are talking about addiction with tobacco, we are most likely talking about physical dependence on nicotine. Washed shisha contains .05% nicotine, unwashed shisha .5% nicotine, and cigarettes vary with an average of about 2.5% nicotine. Hookah tobacco has 2-20% of the nicotine that cigarettes have. Opponents of hookah smoking would maintain that with hookah you are inhaling much more smoke than you would with a cigarette, which is true. But not all smoke is created equal. This article talks about the symptoms of the physical effects of nicotine withdrawal. As much as I smoke hookah, I have most recently spent 2 weeks in Atlanta and 1 week in New York, travelling with my wife for her work. I had absolutely no craving to seek out the nearest hookah lounge to “get a fix”, nor did I care to take my hookah with me. It’s a bit of a hassle to set up on the go. I don’t smoke any other form of tobacco except cigars on occasion and I took one with me to Atlanta, but I ended up giving it to our valet guy because I noticed he enjoys cigars. If I was experiencing nicotine withdrawal, I would be irritable and my wife would be sure to point it out to me… I was just the regular kind of irritable. Coming back in to town, I didn’t fix myself a hookah until 2 days later. When I lived in Jordan for a year, I smoked daily in the hookah cafes, but when I came home and got married, my wife didn’t appreciate hookah the way I did, so I ceased the practice. It wasn’t until 8 months later when I needed a job while we were in Virginia and found one working in a hookah lounge that I picked up the practice again. Now, this is my own personal experience with whether hookah is an addictive practice or not. But I have to think that we would be very rich entrepreneurs (and we’re not) if hookah was “highly addictive” or really even slightly addictive. Most of our customers come in once a week to enjoy a hookah, some maybe once a month. Some customers that used to be regulars (3-4 times a week) have taken up different hobbies and don’t frequent the lounge nearly as often. There just doesn’t seem to be a comparison here to actual nicotine dependency. Addiction is defined as “a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (gambling) that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships.” Cigarette smokers frequently take breaks away from work in order to smoke; on some level, it interferes with their schedule. Time for a cigarette is almost always accommodated for. However, it takes 10-15 minutes just to set up a hookah and 1-2 hours to enjoy the smoking session. Hookah is not a compulsive activity… it requires time set aside and planning to enjoy. Even on a psychological level, it would be difficult to make a case for “hookah addiction”.
- MYTH #3: “Smoking hookah will lead to smoking cigarettes.” This one always makes me laugh out loud. Literally out loud. Opponents of hookah smoking say that hookah is the gateway tobacco that leads to other forms of smoking. If anything, it works the other way around. I have seen a good amount of customers come in to purchase a hookah from our retail shop in order to curb their cigarette smoking. The appeal to smoking hookah is vastly different than cigarettes. People are attracted to hookah for the flavor and smoothness of smoke, as well as the social aspect. The question is why would anybody who doesn’t smoke cigarettes want to try a harsher, more isolated form of smoking tobacco after having the opposite experience with hookah? This myth draws on the fact that hookah makes people dependent on nicotine; therefore when hookah isn’t available, they will search for other sources of nicotine. But that myth has been debunked, and in my 4 years of working in the hookah industry I have never heard of someone picking up smoking cigarettes after enjoying hookah. Maybe this holds true for a slim minority of people who I have never met, but realistically this is a false statement.
- MYTH #4: “Smoking from a hookah during a typical 45-minute session is equivalent to smoking about 100 cigarettes.” There is some truth to this statement, I’m sure. The amount of smoke produced from a hookah is much greater than a cigarette because of the evaporation of the glycerin and molasses mixture, however this is where common sense really comes into play. I continue to say not all smoke is created equal. What in the world would someone feel like after smoking 100 cigarettes? I dare say like death. I’m not even sure if someone would survive that before their lungs collapsed. Yet, I smoke 3 bowls some days, which means equivalently I smoke “300 cigarettes” a day. I don’t have cougher’s lung (or any cough), I maintain aerobic exercise without duress, my blood pressure is right where it should be, I hardly get sick or have a sore throat, and I don’t have stained teeth. All of these are common effects of cigarette smoking. My personal health aside, the typical customer will come in 1-2 times a week with a couple friends, share the hookah between them while they relax and socialize, and go about their daily lives. I am not saying that smoking hookah has no impact on one’s health or does it not make one susceptible to heart disease and such. Again, all tobacco has some risk. But the comparison is apples to oranges in this case.
- MYTH #5: “Hookah contains 50-100 times more tar than cigarettes.” Wikipedia states that tar is ‘the common name for the resinous, partially combusted particulate matter produced by the burning of tobacco and other plant material in the act of smoking.’ In a nutshell, tar is produced primarily through combustion, a method of heating which is not found in hookah smoking. Some research states that tobacco produces tar at a minimum heat level of 900o whereas shisha will reach a temperature of 350o. Check out this YouTube video… there are other videos of the sort out there, but essentially this smoker breaths into a napkin after every breath while smoking 1 cigarette with a filter and you see a dark brown tar residue stain, and then does the same practice with hookah for the same amount of time with no stains detected. Likewise, shortness of breath in cigarette smokers occurs because tar damages lung cells. If you were to ask (and I have many times) a person who strictly smokes hookah versus someone who smokes cigarettes how their breathing is, particularly during aerobic exercises where the lungs are stressed, you will find that the cigarette user reports difficulty breathing while running, swimming, etc. while the hookah smoker does not notice an impact on their performance. In the lounge, we use a device called a ShishaVac to help start our hookahs before we present them to the customers as a way to save time. The ShishaVac has a filter that the smoke is run through, and we pulled the filter out after over 2,000 hookahs were started (using sales reports to determine the number). The ShishaVac filter did have tar residue but it was a faint brown, whereas contrasted to the filter of 1 spent cigarette it was virtually incomparable.
So the question is, why are there all of these reports on how much more dangerous hookah smoking is than cigarettes if what you are saying is true? My answer, besides my theory on anti-tobacco lobbyists (not usually a conspiracy theorist, mind you), is that hookah is truly an art. The water level has to be perfect. If there isn’t enough water, there won’t be enough suction to draw out the smoke and the heat will remain trapped on top, resulting in burning. The packing method has to be just right… if you overpack a bowl, the shisha will touch the foil and burn on contact with the heat. And hookah requires constant heat management, which means if you feel the tobacco is starting to get harsh or burn, then you need to move the coals around the bowl to a place where the heat isn’t as hot to maintain a proper balance. There are many factors that go into a smooth hookah smoking session, and if any of these is off, it results in a burnt bowl. Burning tobacco WILL result in more carcinogens, tar, and nicotine. It WILL make you sick. So when I picture scientists surrounding a hookah to gauge the properties of the smoke it is drawing out, I picture a burning hot mess, which will not provide an accurate portrayal of the real properties of a properly prepared hookah. Hookah is an art and takes a lot of practice to have a smooth session. All in all, I strongly believe based on my research and personal experience that hookah is a safer alternative to cigarettes, but also know it carries its own health risks, all of which I accept when I choose to enjoy a hookah.
There are a number of non-tobacco alternatives on the market for enjoying hookah for those who don’t like the tobacco aspect of it. Our personal favorite that we serve in the lounge is called Shiazo Steam Stones. It is a product made of porous minerals that soak up glycerin and flavoring without the negative properties of tobacco. It produces a nice thick flavorful vapor and has been enjoyed in our lounge by those who don’t want to smoke tobacco or those who have tobacco allergies but want the experience hookah smoking provides. Feel free to email us with any questions or comments at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you!
*The Article above is not the opinions of Buy Local Bowling Green. Honestly, because we have not done the research or know as much as our partners on the practices of their businesses. We appreciate any dialog as does Cloud 9 Hookah about their product. Feel free to call, email or stop by their location to discuss. We have seen first hand they are very much willing to discuss their product and to help with any questions you have.