You’ve probably noticed the obnoxious smell of contraband in the air, your hair and your clothes while visiting a club, bar, or lounge has been suddenly replaced with the sweet smoldering scent of Hookah. Gone are the days of the disk jockey abruptly stopping the music to announce that management will shut down the party if, the owner of some offensive ganga smoke doesn’t extinguish his ‘spliff” immediately. So how did this come to be, how did Shisha replace Maryjane on the dance floor? Is she the new slimmer sexier safer cigarette or something more sinister and insidious?
Hookah also known as shisha, and commonly referred to as waterpipe smoking is a combination of tobacco, water, and charcoal smoked through a waterpipe. Although novel, mysterious, and exotic to many in the U.S.A. is has been smoked for centuries primarily by men in the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean , and parts of Asia like India. During the 1990’s fancy flavored tobacco was introduced and the hookah experience began to explode. All sorts of exotic fruity flavors, and sultry perfumed fragrances captured the senses of young women, and collage aged adolescents and young adults.
I still remember when my roommates would go down to the Village in Manhattan to secluded hookah lounges where they could be hip and trendy. Now hookah is at any and every venue imaginable. It’s now the accepted and expected thing to do while on the scene these days. It’s commonly perceived as being a safe and noncriminal alternative to smoking cigarettes or weed People say “it’s just flavored water vapor” or that “the water filters out the bad stuff”. Is this true though? Why buzz would you get from smoking mist anyway?
In actuality, hookah contains the same harmful chemicals as cigarettes such as nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. Just like with traditional smoking, it carries a risk of cancer, but with the added risks of infectious disease. Sharing a mouthpiece or pipe can transmit tuberculosis and other respiratory infections. In habitual users, research has shown an increase in heart rate blood pressure, and bronchitis. Long term use can result in cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, because of the tar, nicotine, and fine particulate matter released from the burning coal and tobacco.
Hookah has not been regulated by the FDA in the U.S. so there are no warnings labeled at sale. Due to the current lack of government regulation many people assume it is safe. The EPA and National Toxicology Program warn against the adverse affects of hookah, its second-hand smoke, and addictive propensity. Organizations like the Society of Toxicology are working to education the public and push for more research and government control. The reality is that a rose by any other name is still a rose. Hookah is the new cigarette in a sexier dress and better perfume.