Blowing a puff of dense smoke from a hookah is the new craze for students in college. For those who aren’t familiar with hookahs, according to the Britannica dictionary a hookah, also known as a waterpipe is a single or multi-stemmed (often glass-based) instrument for smoking in which the smoke is cooled and filtered by passing through water.
When asked if she smoked, Kelly Hancank, a first year Liberal Arts major said, “Oh gosh no…. I don’t really smoke…..I do have hookah sometimes but it’s pretty rare and it’s really not as bad as smoking everyday….is it?” Hancank, like a lot of students, doesn’t know the facts.
According to a survey of 60 Mercer students, 42 believed that hookahs were less harmful than cigarettes. Mercer student Annie Smith provided a typical view saying, “Well smoking hookah is less harmful than cigarettes because the smoke gets filtered through the water and has fewer toxins.” This is far from the actual truth. According to the World Health Organization smoking a hookah is more harmful than cigarettes because the user inhales a lot more smoke from it.
On the Mayo Clinic website Dr Richard Hurt, M.D a Mayo Clinic internist and director of the Nicotine Dependence Center answers the question: “Is hookah smoking safer than cigarettes?” Hurt writes, “Hookah smoke contains high levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens). In fact, hookah smokers are exposed to more carbon monoxide and smoke than are cigarette smokers.”
A World Health Organization document entitled “Waterpipe tobacco smoking: health effects, research needs and recommended actions by regulators” states that “Contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke that emerges from a water pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases. Preliminary research indicates that hookah smoking poses many of the same dangers as cigarettes and may involve ‘some unique health risks.’”
Julia Carter, who is starting at Mercer this fall as a nursing major said, “Well I don’t personally smoke hookahs or cigarettes, but I believe that hookah would have fewer side effects as compared to cigarettes. At least I hope so, because my younger sister has it all the time.”
When Carter was shown the actual facts about smoking a hookah she had nothing to say for the first few seconds, then she responded, “I should call mom and make sure Sheena (her younger sister) is not having a hookah.”
Along with other misinformation a lot of students believe that when they are smoking hookahs they are not actually having tobacco, even though the flavor box used for hookahs says 0.5% nicotine. Furthermore, hookahs can last up to an hour, hence people can inhale more than 100 times more smoke in a hookah session than in a single cigarette according to the World Health Organization.
But there is a bigger problem. Even when students realize hookah smoking is dangerous many don’t want to give it up.
Alekhya Dulur, a second year Computer Science major said, “I know they’re not the best for your health, but [smoking a hookah] is fun, especially if you are sitting with your friends.”
On a similar note Renee Gordon, an Aviation graduate from Mercer said, “Yes, of course I know the health effects of hookah. I know it is bad for your health, but then so are cigarettes and vodka. It’s not like people stop smoking cigarettes or stop drinking, so why should I give up hookah? And anyways saying you’ve never had hookah is saying you’re not cool.”
Like cigarettes were for generations past, hookahs appears to be the “cool” thing to do for many young people at the moment. And, just like smoking, even when people are aware of the health risks, health officials have an uphill battle in reducing the number of people engaged in hookah smoking because the pressure to be cool prevents people who know better from giving it up.