Hookah’s Relaxed Reputation Downplays Dangers

Hookahs are back in the news as experts warn that this seemingly civilized way to smoke may lure young users into ignoring the dangers.

While cigarette smoking can be somewhat social, at its heart it’s a solitary activity because it usually involves one person smoking one cigarette. But a hookah is usually used in groups, with a social component to it that involves sitting around in a lounge-type atmosphere and passing this water pipe around from friend to friend to friend. Because of the civilized setting and the young age of many hookah smokers, it’s easy for those partaking to forget about the health issues involved.

Unfortunately, whether the smoker is aware or not, the dangers are there. Smoking a hookah delivers the same chemical compounds as smoking a cigarette, but one 45- to 60-minute session delivers approximately 100 times the smoke of a single cigarette, with 40 times the tar and 10 times the carbon monoxide.

For those not in the know, a hookah is a water pipe with a smoke chamber, a bowl and a hose. The tobacco is heated and flavored with molasses and fruit, then the smoke passes through water and into a mouthpiece. This setup allows smokers to inhale more deeply than is possible with drier cigarette smoke.

Fueling the trend are the hookah bars popping up around the country. Teens and young 20-somethings find them a particular draw, with one in three current college students admitting they’ve tried it, according to a recent study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

The verdict is still out on whether smoking a hookah is addictive, but with smokers inhaling twice the amount of nicotine in one hookah session as they do with a single cigarette, it may not need to be habit-forming to be harmful.

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