Hookah myth is up in smoke

Hookah isn’t healthier or safer than cigarettes.

by Hemang Sharma

Smoking hookah is now one of the most common college pastimes, as one in three college students has reported smoking hookah. What people don’t always realize, though, is that hookah isn’t any healthier or safer than cigarettes.

Hookah smokers have an easier life compared to their counterparts who prefer to get their tobacco fix the old fashioned way via cigarettes. Cigarette smokers are the ones who get constantly hassled by the law, restaurants, housing authorities, friends and strangers who give them a look of disgust. It’s as if lighting one up on the way to class on a Monday morning is a crime.

Cigarette smokers are usually found outside a building, bearing the unforgiving elements of the Minnesota weather while hookah smokers get proper bars and lounges dedicated to them. On one hand, we have the smokers who are done puffing away in about five minutes, yet they are forced to take it to the streets, while we devote Persian rugs and state-sanctioned, dimly lit establishments to enjoy the hookah experience.

Risks of cigarette smoking are better known, but most people don’t believe that hookah is a health hazard, too. According to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking in a hookah bar creates more inhaled toxins than one cigarette. And let’s not forget all the secondhand smoke one takes in while the hose is being passed around the group.

Hookah bars are more dangerous than smoking the many flavored types of the tobacco product in your own living room. In an ideal situation, your hookah is cleaned after each use and you have proper ventilation. At a hookah bar, there are often more hookahs in close proximity, resulting in more smoke to inhale, and ventilation is usually poor.

The CDC lists it as a health risk and advises pregnant women and minors about its effects. The report by the CDC marks the increased patterns of hookah’s acceptance by young people, even as cigarette smoking decreases. A typical hour-long session of hookah is equivalent of 100-200 times the smoke from one cigarette. So much for being healthier.

Minnesota hookah bars rely on underdeveloped laws, as they fall under a provision in the 2007 state ban on smoking  in bars and restaurants that allows tobacco shops to offer smoking inside.

I don’t smoke hookah. That doesn’t make me any better or worse than the people who do. It’s a good social recipe; invite a bunch of people over, or go to a hookah bar where you can smoke, drink and eat, indulge and puff your troubles away. I can understand the appeal; I just wish that people saw the perceived double standard for these two types of smokers.

The acceptance of hookah has progressed enough for it to be considered mainstream in American society. There’s a store on campus that sells everything — the coal, the hookah, the plastic suction pipes in case you break yours, along with the hose that you so desperately need to keep clean. There are many more in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with many hookah bars within a few miles from the University of Minnesota campus, where people can be seen making circles of smoke on any Thursday evening.

There isn’t a level playing field when it comes to persecution of smokers. Both are harmful, yet the dangers aren’t perceived to be the same — general guidelines and behaviors toward tobacco products vary. Both our laws and our behavior should be consistent: Regardless of the tobacco product, we need to realize the potential health
effects.