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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Hookah's risks are unclear
Is it safer than smoking cigarettes?
 
Published Wednesday, July 3, 2013
by Amanda Raymond

A hookah is a glass-based water pipe used for smoking.
According to the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information, an estimated 100 million people worldwide use hookah daily.
The practice originated in ancient Persia and India and was once commonly used for smoking herbal fruits after meals. Recently hookahs have become increasingly used for smoking tobacco.

The introduction of a variety of flavored and aromatic tobaccos – from watermelon and sour apple to chocolate and cappuccino – has helped broaden the appeal, particularly in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 300 hookah cafes opened in the U.S. in 2006, the last year figures were available. Several bars are in the Charlotte area.

Hookah smoking is especially popular among young people. One study found that 22-40 percent of U.S. college students had smoked in 2012, according to the CDC.

Relative to cigarette smoking, tobacco used in a water pipe is characterized by more intermittent use and greater social acceptability. According to NCBI, there is also an increased use among women and a lower interest in quitting, possibly because people are less aware of its addictive properties and underestimate the potential health risks.

“It’s just not well studied,” said Dr. Jaspal Singh, a pulmonologist at Carolinas Healthcare System. “There’s a lot of controversy as to how safe cigarette smoking versus hookah smoking is because hookah smoking is not the traditional… Some people think it is safer.”

However, Singh said there is no research to prove the smoking tobacco with a hookah is safer than cigarettes.

“No one really knows if it’s really safer or not,” he said. “If you measure nicotine levels in traditional hookah smoking, nicotine concentration can get so high it’s about 30-40, and in some studies 100 cigarettes, in one session. Because the hookah session lasts for hours, at times in these social settings, it can be like 100 cigarettes equivalent.”

The same nicotine and preservatives found in cigarettes that may cause cancer, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are also present with hookah smoking. Singh said it is still unclear if the water-filled base actually acts as a filter.

However, he said usual hookah smokers do not get the daily exposure of cigarette smokers.

“Hookah isn’t something that most people, especially not in the Western Hemisphere, are going to be doing every day for long periods of time,” he said. “It’s more of a social type of situation where a lot of the exposures are not daily on a frequent basis.”

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