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Sharp Health News

Hookah: don’t believe the hype

Nov. 25, 2015

Dangers of hookah smoking

Have you noticed a hookah lounge open in your neighborhood or hookahs for sale in local smoke shop windows? Have you spotted photos of celebrities holding hookahs or wondered to yourself, what’s with all the hype?

The truth is that hookah has been around for many centuries. It is a water pipe that originated in the Middle East and uses charcoal to smoke opium, hashish and dark tobacco. Today, hookah is used to smoke tobacco that has been soaked in molasses, honey and fruity flavors such as apple, mint, watermelon and cherry. Often, a hookah is smoked in a group setting and two or more people at a time can smoke from the same mouthpiece.

This is one trend you want to avoid

Hookah smoking continues to grow in popularity among young adults in the U.S. and Europe, despite reports that it is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.

A 2010 survey of high school seniors in the United States found that 1 in 5 boys and 1 in 6 girls had used a hookah in the past year. San Diego County is home to more than 30 hookah bars, many near its 18 colleges and universities. In fact, most hookah lounges or cafés tend to be located in college towns and around college campuses.

Don’t believe the hype

Advertisements for hookah say that smokers can experience the same benefits of smoking without the dangerous effects. “This is simply not true,” says Dr. Siavash Jabbari, a radiation oncologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group. “People greatly underestimate the danger hookah can have on their health. The flavors are enticing and the social aspect of it is alluring, but the reality is, you’re still burning tobacco and inhaling smoke with chemicals that could lead to cancer, heart disease or lung disease.”  

According to the World Health Organization, a single hour of inhaling hookah smoke exposes users to the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes. Jabbari offers this response to people who think smoking only two to three times a week is safe. “If you don’t smoke cigarettes, but smoke hookah, you should stop smoking all together. It’s not a safer alternative.”

Here are answers to some common misconceptions about hookah:

  • Hookah smoke is filtered through water; it’s white and it doesn’t smell bad, so it must be OK.
    Truth: Even after it passes through water, hookah smoke contains high levels of toxic agents. The charcoal used to heat the tobacco produces high levels of carbon monoxide and other cancer-causing chemicals.

  • Hookah leaves a fruity flavor in my mouth and it doesn’t irritate my throat.
    Truth: Tobacco toxins from hookah do irritate the mouth in the long-term and increase your risk of developing oral cancers.

  • If hookah was as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, it wouldn’t be allowed in restaurants, bars and lounges.
    Truth: Secondhand smoke from hookahs can be a health risk for nonsmokers. Cities like Toronto and countries like Iran are starting to ban hookah inside all businesses.

The bottom line is that all smoking poses health risks. If you or someone you know needs help to quit smoking, Sharp offers smoking cessation classes throughout San Diego County.

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