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Study Reveals Hookah as Harmful as Cigarettes

posted on: Aug 26, 2009


BY: Ameera David/Contributing Writer

Hookah lounges, typically decorated with trendy furnishings and dimmed lights, are readily drawing in consumers to their inviting atmosphere. These socializing havens have become popular in cities across the US as has the debate considering the hookah’s effect on health. While commonly thought to be a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, a recent study from the Tobacco Control Collaborating Center is now helping to clear up that misconception. The study reveals that smoking hookah is as detrimental to health as smoking cigarettes.

The hookah (also known as shisha) is a water pipe that operates by water filtration and indirect heat. The water, which rests at the bottom of the pipe, is used to cool the smoke that is produced by burning various flavors of tobacco. It is the filtration of water, in fact, that leads many consumers to believe smoking the hookah is not as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. Nonetheless, the study shows the water does not have ability to sift harmful toxins from the tobacco.

Dr. Hilary Wareing, director of the Collaborating Center, says, “None of the tests we did showed anything other than shisha (tobacco) is hazardous to health.” The study says one session of smoking shisha for 30 minutes – gives carbon monoxide levels that are at least four and five times higher than having a cigarette. Although not yet determined, researchers believe smoking the hookah could even be 400 to 450 times more dangerous than having a cigarette.

While hookah has flourished most recently amongst Americans, there is great concern for the health of Arab Americans, who are of the most prevalent smokers. Realizing the need for awareness, the Arab American Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS) hosted an educational forum about the adverse effects of smoking earlier this month. Dinah Ayna, one of the event’s organizers, says “the forum was really a response to the emerging studies that show hookah smoking has increased significantly within our own community.”

In the past few years, studies have also discovered Arab Americans are beginning to smoke at a younger age. Ayna adds “while non-Arab kids typically start smoking hookah in high school and college, Arab Americans are starting even younger because it more acceptable in terms of cultural standards.” While ACCESS and other organizations will hold similar forums in coming years, the question remains whether consumers will heed advice to limit hookah use or if they will instead choose to indulge now, and think later.