Over the last several years the hookah has gained popularity among college-age students and young adults as a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes. Hookah bars in college towns have emerged as a night club scene, a trendy place to go for conversation and relaxation with friends. As a result of the smoking bans in many cities, most hookah bars only offer non-alcoholic drinks, teas and coffees to enjoy while puffing away on a water pipe filled with your choice of flavored tobacco listed in a menu or on a board. Other cities have totally eliminated smoking in indoor venues, including the hookah. After all, smoking is still smoking, no matter how it’s done.
Smoking from a hookah is not a new experience. Hookahs originated in India sometime before the 1500s, but soon moved to the Middle East where some of the best hookahs can be found. Establishments in the United States started out on the coasts, catering to immigrant men of Middle Eastern descent. The hookah, also known as a waterpipe, uses flavored tobacco referred to as shisha. Original hookah pipes are the single hose versus the multiple hose variety found today. The smoke passes through the water at the base of the device before it is inhaled and released as secondhand smoke.
Hookahs have a reputation as a safer and healthier alternative to smoking, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. One hour long session is the equivalent to inhaling 100 cigarettes-worth of smoke. The sweet flavors of the tobacco, along with the water-cooled smoothness, help mask the smoky taste. The toxins of the smoke also combine with the carbon monoxide of the burning charcoals. You are warned about burning a barbeque grill inside because of the carbon monoxide, and you wouldn’t think of smoking in an enclosed garage with the car running yet you spend money to sit in a hookah lounge. In addition to sharing tobacco with friends, you are also sharing diseases such as mononucleosis, tuberculosis, the common cold and herpes simplex from cold sores as you pass the pipe. Most bars provide each patron with their own plastic tip for the hose.
Florida treats the hookah like cigarettes and anyone over 18 is allowed to join in the smoking. There is even a “rent-a-hookah” business in one Florida town which will deliver a hookah and tobacco to you. Hookahs are banned from indoor areas like bars and restaurants but are allowed as smoke shops, particularly in college towns. One college-aged woman described it like “smoking candy.” The secondhand smoke emitted is just as harmful as that from cigarettes, but the effect of smoking is more concentrated. Smoking tobacco is still smoking, no matter how it is delivered.