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Students smoke hookah despite health risks

The number of hookah pipes in use seems to multiply every year, but students who smoke them may want to look into the health risks before lighting the coal.

A World Health Organization report said people who smoke hookah for an hour are inhaling as much smoke as if they had burned through 100 cigarettes.

Students who use it say they're not worried about the health risks because they don't smoke very often. Senior business administration major Bridget Edgeworth said she smokes hookah "maybe once a month" and doesn't have a physical addiction to it in the same way people have an addiction to cigarettes.

"I'll wake up with a headache after smoking hookah for a night, but I don't crave it like a cigarette," she said.


Kent Bullis, medical director of the Amelia T. Wood Health Center, said smoking hookah is no less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but comparing the two is not as simple as the WHO makes it out to be.

"Hookah is different than cigarettes," Bullis said. "There are different proportions of nicotine versus tar versus carbon monoxide versus numerous other carcinogens. Plus with hookah you are typically adding in whatever source of combustion you are using to get the tobacco to burn."

He said carbon monoxide from coals used to smoke hookah are harmful, but the degree of harm is not something that can be quantified based on recent studies.

"There are studies of Egyptian men who smoke hookah showing what appears to be rates of emphysema 2-3 times higher than one would expect from smoking cigarettes," he said. "These are small studies and have not been duplicated in other populations yet, so it is hard to know how much weight to give them."

Various health organizations have published articles that agree with the 2005 WHO study, but they report different levels of harm caused by smoking hookah causes.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted similar numbers in their reports and emphasized that hookah smoking is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.

An article posted on the Mayo Clinic website said hookah smoking is not safer than cigarette smoking, but gave no definite numbers on how harmful it is. It said the carbon monoxide that's inhaled from using hookah is worse that inhaling the same gas from cigarette smoke.


Aaron Benge, a sales associate at Wild Side Smoke Shop, said he's not buying it.

"An hour's worth of smoking a hookah is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes," Benge said. "So yeah, it's a little bit worse, but you're normally not lighting up a hookah more than once a day."

Edgeworth, who seldom smokes, said she doubts such incriminating reports of hookah.

"It's weighing the different aspects of a pack of cigarettes," she said. "I don't know if it's looking at the chemical impact on your body compared to the nicotine impact."

Many local shops sell hookah pipes, including Wild Side Smoke Shop, 420 Underground and Low Bob's Discount Tobacco. Edgeworth said she bought her hookah after smoking it with a friend.

"I had really only done it with friends who own hookahs," Edgeworth said. "My friend and I were in the Village one afternoon and checked out [Wild Side Smoke Shop]. I saw the hookahs and thought they were cute, so I bought one."

Cigarettes seem more harmful because of the high amount of chemicals, she said.

"I've only touched a cigarette once in my life," Edgeworth said. "It's really all the unnatural stuff in cigarettes which scares me. I've never been afraid of smoking hookah."


The CDC, WHO and Mayo Clinic presented another health risk: the spread of infectious diseases from pipes that have not been cleaned.

"Hookah pipes used in hookah bars and cafes may not be cleaned properly, risking the spread of infectious diseases," reported the Mayo Clinic.

Diseases that are commonly spread include tuberculosis and hepatitis, according to the WHO report.

The report said the motive for smoking hookah is often social. It also says smoking flavored tobacco is appealing to those who would not smoke tobacco in other forms.

"Smoking hookah is a relaxation technique," Benge said.

At 420 Underground, at least 34 flavors of tobacco, called shisha, are displayed in a case including margarita, citrus mint and pumpkin pie.

Edgeworth said the flavors are only one reason she smokes.

"It's just fun," she said. "I just learned how to blow smoke rings. The smoke is just really smooth and it doesn't hurt to smoke."

She said she might change her smoking habits if she saw the report.

"I definitely want to look at that statistic myself," she said. "I've still got a little bit of shisha left, so I'll probably wait to look at the stat after I smoke it."

Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011

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