Do you currently smoke hookah? If the answer is yes, you may want to reconsider after reading this.
Hookah, with origins tracing back to India, has been around for at least 500 years. More recently, it has made its way across the globe and is continuing to increase in popularity particularly among teens and young adults in the United States. Unlike cigarettes, which have become a social stigma in the U.S., hookah is considered more socially acceptable and a group activity despite both being vehicles for smoking tobacco.
It seems that many hookah smokers view this often social activity to be much less harmful than cigarettes or other tobacco products. Some hookah smokers make it a point to not actually inhale the smoke, arguing that this is completely safe and no damage is really done by simply rolling the smoke around the mouth and exhaling.
Unfortunately this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What is hookah?
Hookah consists of a pipe and a long flexible tube connected to an urn of water through which smoke passes upon inhalation from the tube. The act of the smoke passing through the water cools the smoke before it is inhaled.
Shisha generally refers to the tobacco that is smoked from a hookah pipe (yes, you are in fact smoking tobacco — this fact comes as a surprise to some hookah smokers). Shisha is often sweetened with molasses or honey and flavored extracts. During a hookah session, charcoal is used to heat the tobacco to produce the smoke for inhalation.
The Potential Dangers of Hookah
Tobacco, which naturally contains the compound nicotine is extremely toxic. It enters the body via the smoke you inhale and is absorbed by mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, and lungs.
So, even the hookah smokers that don’t inhale the tobacco smoke into their lungs, still absorb nicotine in their mouths.
It’s also worthwhile to point out the fact that it would be difficult to ensure that absolutely zero smoke slips past your mouth and into your throat while inhaling, so it is quite likely that your throat is exposed to the hookah smoke more than you realize.
Nicotine is extremely addictive and considered by the U.S. Surgeon General to be just as addictive as cocaine or heroin. It’s side effects extend throughout the body, affecting the cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, and reproductive systems.
The immediate affects of nicotine include irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea, pain in the abdomen, an increase salivation, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Longterm effects of nicotine include:
- DNA damage
- DNA mutations
- An increase in cell growth
All of this essentially creates the perfect environment that promotes and accelerates tumor growth.
Nicotine alone has been linked to lung, pancreatic, and breast cancer, as well as coronary vascular disease, erectile dysfunction, and altered hormone production. Nicotine also causes a delay in wound healing and an increased risk of infection.What’s more is nicotine can also cause insulin sensitivity or resistance and poses an increased risk of smokers developing type 2 diabetes.
While smoking hookah, you are also inhaling carbon monoxide and other toxins that are a byproduct of the heated mixture. These toxins include Acrolein (irritates the nose, eyes, and throat), Acrylamide (damages the nervous system), Naphthalene (damages the red blood cells), and Benzene (linked to cancers such as leukemia).
One common misconception is that the water in the hookah urn absorbs or filters out all of the toxins in the smoke, but this is not the case. According to a report released by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers analyzed the urine of 105 hookah smokers and 103 nonsmokers who were exposed to smoke from a water pipe. The results revealed that after an event in a hookah lounge, the levels of S-phenylmercapturic acid (SPMA), a byproduct of benzene was 4 times higher than normal in the smokers and 2.6 times higher in the nonsmokers. The same analysis was done after a hookah smoking event that took place in a private home. The SPMA levels in the urine of the hookah smokers were 2 times higher than normal and levels were normal in the nonsmokers. It should be noted that there is no safe level of exposure to Benzene.
More research needs to be done to fully understand all of the risks associated with hookah, but what is currently known about hookah is definitely cause for concern.
Do you currently smoke hookah or have you in the past? I would love to hear your thoughts below.