Growing up, I thought hookah was the epitome of “cool.” Smoke curls out of nostrils and mouths taste like sweet flavor and fire. College is our free pass to experiment, whether it be with weed, alcohol, LSD, cigars, or whatever vice you choose. However, hookah is a shenanigan you should leave outside the doorstep of Modern Age Tobacco and Smoke.

I asked Aaron R., my friend who is a medical student at LECOM in Bradenton, Florida, why hookah is one of the unhealthiest habits. However, what is hookah? It’s a word that’s coupled with Middle Eastern turbans and shared spit, but the chemical makeup eludes most people.

What is hookah?

“Hookah” is the actual device through which tobacco is smoked. Flavored tobacco is packed into a bowl and the smoke flows through a water chamber to rubber pipes. The pipes are usually passed around a circle, the shisha (another word for hookah) smoke inhaled for up to a minute per person.

Hookah originated in Persia and India and is gaining popularity among college students. Especially with flavored shisha (i.e. kiwi, watermelon), younger people are smoking hookah since it’s available and trendy. 

According to the CDC, between 22% to 40% of college students will smoke hookah during their university years. Weed can also be packed into a hookah bowl, the weed vapors smoked as tobacco usually would be.

Why is hookah bad for you?

Most people say hookah isn’t as harmful as cigarettes or cigars since the water “filters” out toxins. According to Aaron, smoking hookah is worse since the user inhales more smoke than a normal pack of cigarettes.

Carbon monoxide and carcinogens can still be inhaled, irritating the lungs and causing problems (like cancer) down the road. Nicotine is still digested, which could create a dependence on hookah for the user.

As opposed to marijuana, hookah isn’t medicinal (unless reducing stress counts as a health benefit). “The stigma of it {weed} being a drug is what makes people believe it’s wrong to smoke it…whereas a lot people say sheesha is less harmful and it’s legal,” said Rampersad.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a hookah session lasting 20-80 minutes is equivalent to smoking 100+ cigarettes. Definitive health problems linked to hookah smoking include respiratory disease, low birth weights in newborns, lung cancer, and nicotine addiction. 

Although the FDA regulates the manufacturing and distribution of hookah, it is not illegal to smoke or sell. 

Comparing Hookah and Tobacco

ice, chocolate, cream
Mackenzie Patel

If hookah is just packed tobacco, what’s the difference between that and straight tobacco (i.e. cigarettes, cigars, and chew)? Both deliver the same toxic chemicals into your body, but hookah is worse from a hygienic perspective.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of infectious diseases (i.e. tuberculosis, herpes) being spread is more likely with hookah. Traditionally, the smoke pipe is shared with multiple people, whereas cigarettes/cigars are kept to one smoker.

Secondhand smoke is equal with hookah and cigarettes, although most people go to lounges to smoke hookah (confining the effects more). Overall, both are unhealthy vices that should be swapped out for yoga or intense fruit canning.

I get it, it’s past midnight, a few gin and tonics are inside you, and smoking hookah with friends makes two o’clock bearable. Been there, done that. Ultimately, your health is more important than sucking on dirty pipes and “looking cool” to people you won’t remember in 10 years. Save your lungs while you can and indulge in other college stupidities.