Hookahs: Exotic and Toxic

Hookahs: Exotic and Toxic

In part 3 of this series, we’ll be discussing one of the oldest smoking fads: the Hookah. (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2)

Image is from 1900 from Iran.

The hookah dates back to the 15th century, at which time its use was revered as one of prestige amongst the upper classes. According to some sources, the hookah was invented in India by Hakim Abu’l-Fath Gīlānī, a physician, who created this system to allow smoke to be passed through water so it could be “purified.” This is still a popular perception today, with many people smoking hookahs indiscriminately, assuming the “particles” from the tobacco are being filtered out.

The hookah, in its ornate beauty, allures the young, creating an illusion of social grandiosity. It might even have a glamorous, exotic appeal: the smoke is sweet, as they are often flavored with things like cherry and vanilla, and the hookahs themselves are often quite beautiful. What a wonderful metaphor, reminding us the outsides don’t always match the insides: the hookah experience may look and even taste good, but the damage it causes is deeply embedded in its smoky tendrils.

Partaking in a session of hookah smoking is often assumed to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but in reality, it’s not. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session, which can last as long as 60 minutes.” (I cough just thinking about this!) Hookahs come with their own set of risks, though, some of which include:

  • High levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and carcinogens;
  • Exposure to more carbon monoxide than cigarette smokers;
  • Hookah smoking is linked to lung and oral cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses;
  • Hookah smoking delivers about the same amount of nicotine as cigarette smoking does, possibly leading to tobacco addiction.

So before you cozy up in the hookah lounge, attempting to have an exotic experience with friends, think again. There are much better things to do with your time, like taking the opportunity to indulge in some fabulous Indian food instead. Save the smoky allure for the history books.

Articles of interest:

CDC Fact Sheet

Putting the Crimp in Hookah

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