Hookah smoking, a past-time in many middle eastern countries, as well as India, has recently become a worldwide social phenomena, especially among college youths. “Hookah bars,” where one can order a hookah with flavored tobacco (often referred to as shisha or nargileh) in a social setting, can be found in most cities. With increased popularity comes increased concern though, and recent studies have been conducted to demonstrate the negative health effects that hookah smoking produces.
The logical comparison in terms of health risks is with cigarettes. A recent study showed that the level of carbon monoxide being exhaled from a hookah smoker is 42 parts per million, as opposed to cigarette smokers, who exhale 17 parts per million of carbon monoxide. The study did not investigate any other chemicals, or the addictive properties of shisha, but it does suggest that hookah smoking is not a completely harmless activity. Second hand hookah smoke, in terms of carbon monoxide, is more harmful than that of cigarettes.
Many youths assume hookah smoking is safe and harmless, but clearly this is not true. Other studies have shown that hookah smokers often inhale more smoke, and therefore potentially more chemicals, than cigarette smokers. In fact, inhalation is not a necessity with hookah smoking, which many youths have been shown to be unaware of. Not inhaling would greatly reduce the risk for first-hand smokers, though second-hand smoke from carbon monoxide would still be a significant problem.
As with almost anything that is put into one’s body, being educated about the risks, and the proper ways to minimize them, is of utmost importance. Hookah smoking is certainly not a “healthy” or “risk-free” activity, but if one is to partake in it, it is best to not inhale and to be aware of the damage being done to those in the vicinity of the smoke.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Hammond, Katherine. Eissenberg, Thomas. JAMA. January 2008.