In spite of increasing awareness of the dangers of smoking and the relative success of anti-tobacco campaigns over the past few decades, the use of this addictive plant is still quite prevalent in most societies. More specifically, smoking remains common among college students and young adults.
A survey conducted by the American Medical Association of 14,138 randomly chosen college students showed that “nearly half (45.7 percent) of respondents had used a tobacco product in the past year and one-third (32.9 percent) currently use tobacco.”
While cigarettes have been the product of choice in Western countries, in other parts of the world different methods have long been used. One such form of smoking tobacco is commonly known as “hookah,” or the water pipe. According to the American Lung Association, in recent years hookah bars have increasingly gained popularity in the United States, especially among 18 to 24-year-olds, becoming “the first new tobacco use trend of the 21st century.”
Hookah — also called narghile, shisha and goza — originated in India several hundred years ago. From there, it quickly spread throughout the subcontinent and eventually became common in Arab society.
Since its inception, the premise of the water pipe was that it is not as harmful to one’s health as other smoking methods because this device filters the tobacco smoke through water (or another preferred liquid). Thus, it is important to understand the basic workings of a water pipe to see why this belief is still held today.
The hookah has four main parts that should be identified: The bowl at the top holds the tobacco, which is heated by the coals; a base or water jar filled with liquid allows the smoke to pass through; a body and stem connect the base to the top of the device and a hose and mouthpiece allow the user to inhale the tobacco smoke.
Individuals who have smoked tobacco through a water pipe and also used cigarettes or other rolled tobacco products can probably attest to the fact that hookah smoke is generally smoother and thus does not seem as harmful. However, as hookah usage is becoming more widespread, more research is being done to examine its health effects in relation to cigarette smoking.
The general consensus from most studies, a majority of which are done by groups that are a part of the greater medical community, is that hookah is equally bad, if not worse, for the body than cigarettes.
“It’s a myth that hookah smoking is safer than smoking cigarettes,” says Dr. Edward Rosenow, a Mayo Clinic pulmonologist. “The tobacco is no less toxic. Hookah smokers actually inhale more tobacco smoke than do cigarette smokers because of the massive volume of smoke they inhale.”
Indeed, because hookah sessions often last for very long periods of time (anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours), and because each user takes a puff each time the hose is passed around the circle, it may in fact be more detrimental than cigarettes.
However, research is still underway and hookah’s impact on health has not become accepted, or even known, amongst the general population. Thus, other factors compel most people to choose hookah instead of cigarettes.
For instance, cigarettes have earned names such as “cancer sticks” and the act of smoking through this method has gained a negative reputation. By contrast, the concept of water filtration adds an aura of pseudoscience, and most will subconsciously believe that because it is a complicated piece of equipment, the water pipe cannot be as dangerous.
In addition, hookah has been pre-packaged for a while, mixed in with assorted molasses flavors, leading to a myriad of different, appealing tastes from spearmint to blends of tropical fruit. These packages are often labeled with information such as “0.0 percent tar” or “0.5 percent nicotine,” which may be misleading or blatantly false, but due to a lack of regulation and outside research, consumers’ fears are successfully alleviated.
Today, these apparatuses can be found across UC Irvine and the surrounding community. Whether friends smoke in the comfort of their own living rooms, or in one of the many local hookah bars, this social pastime will probably continue to be prevalent amongst college students for years to come.