Hookahs Play Tricks on Users

By Kenneth Garger 08/23/11

The sociable smoking devices have become wildly popular, but despite their "safe" image, researchers warn they can be worse for you than cigarettes.

Hookahs, the multi-stemmed smoking devices, are gaining popularity, according to a new study from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. The flavored tobacco favored by hookah-suckers comes in a wide variety of sweet flavors like raspberry lemonade, blueberry, apple martini, and even jack and cola. These tobacco cocktails pass through an urn of cooled water at the hookah's base before they're inhaled, reducing the burning sensation experienced by the smoker—and leading many to a wrongly-held view that the practice is harmless. The research—headed by Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy—found that hookah use among Californian adults rose by 40% from 2005 to 2008, with younger adults the biggest enthusiasts. “People who smoke hookah believe it’s less harmful than cigarettes, which is not supported by any scientific evidence,” holds Al-Delaimy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say smoking a hookah for an hour involves 100-200 times the smoke volume of one cigarette. Shawn, a 21-year-old student and hookah-user from LA, admitted to The Fix that the smoke stat "concerns" him—he previously had no idea. He listed "the flavor, the volume of the smoke, the buzz" as attractions, along with a social aspect: “It’s fun to get with a group of friends and smoke hookah.” The craze isn't confined to the West Coast. Jason Saunders, 22, a New York entrepreneur and occasional hookah-head, described the appeal to The Fix: "It's a group experience. It isn't like weed where you get ripped to the point that you become anti-social. And it isn't like cigarettes, which smell terrible and drive people outside. It smells good, lightens the mood, and lets people relax." Al-Delaimy and his team hope to dispel such good PR—they'd even support a ban on hookah lounges. The researchers outlined their concerns on video:

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Ken Garger is a reporter for the New York Post. You can follow him on Twitter.