Remember in college when even your friends who’d never touch a cigarette seemed fine with smoking from a hookah? Like Natty Lite being something humans should drink, hookahs’ power to somehow negate tobacco’s health risks was a lie we collectively told and believed.
The Turkish government is now cracking down on hookahs — an ancient Turkish tradition — because of their health-damaging potential.
As of Sunday it is no longer permitted to smoke the “hubbly-bubbly” in cafes, bars or restaurants as the conservative Islamic government cracks down on use of tobacco.
Also known as water pipes or shisha, hookahs had gone out of fashion in Turkey as cigarettes gained popularity in the 20th century. But in recent years, shisha and hookah smoking (“narghile”) was making a comeback in Turkish cities.
In the United States, hookah smoking is increasingly common with teenagers and young adults. A 2011 study found “an alarming prevalence of waterpipe smoking among middle and high school students” in the U.S, including 12-15% of Arab-American teens and 17% of all 12th-graders saying they’d smoked from a hookah in the past year. About 10% of university students reported hookah smoking.
Though many people think hookah smokers aren’t getting the nicotine and carcinogens that come with common cigarettes, the composition of the tobacco used in hookah smoking “is variable and not well standardized,” say researchers.
Studies that have examined narghile smokers and the aerosol of narghile smoke have reported high concentrations of carbon monoxide, nicotine, “tar,” and heavy metals. These concentrations were as high or higher than those among cigarette smokers. The few scientific data regarding the adverse health consequences of WPS point to dangers that are similar to those associated with cigarette smoking: malignancy, impaired pulmonary function, low birth weight, and others.
In other words: The tobacco in a hookah pipe is every bit as toxic as tobacco from a Lucky Strike or Camel. And health experts say that because hookah smoke lasts longer, it’s actually more dangerous than cigarettes in terms of passive smoke inhalation (to hookah smokers or those around them). According to the CDC,
- Due to the mode of smoking—including frequency of puffing, depth of inhalation, and length of the smoking session—hookah smokers may absorb higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke.
- A typical 1-hour-long hookah smoking session involves inhaling 100–200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette.
Pipe sharing also brings the added risk of getting the germs from all the people you’re smoking with.