Thursday, March 25, 2010

Health Effects of Hookah Smoke

Smoking a hookah pipe (also known as shisha or nargila or arguily) has become a popular social activity in the United States in recent decades. Many people see hookah smoking as a good alternative to smoking cigarettes, because of the flavored tobacco available for hookahs and the apparent health advantages of smoking through a pipe rather than smoking cigarettes. But is the hookah’s reputation as a healthy option really justified? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of hookah smoking from a health perspective.

The supposed health benefits of smoking through a hookah are largely based on the fact that the smoke is passed through water before it reaches the smoker’s lips. The hookah was first developed in India after tobacco became popular as a way to reduce the harshness of the smoke on the body and make smoking a more pleasurable experience. Flavored tobacco soon followed the innovation of smoking through water.

However, there is no real evidence that smoking through a hookah reduces the health risks associated with inhaling smoke itself. The water does cool the smoke and make it easier on the throat, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t doing any damage to the smoker’s body. In fact, the World Health Organization has conducted research that indicates hookah smoke is equally as harmful and dangerous as cigarette smoke. So the filtration process of the hookah does not guarantee safer smoke.

That said, there are some advantages that come from what you actually smoke through the hookah. You don’t necessarily have to smoke tobacco through a hookah – there are alternative herbal shisha options which can be much better on the body. Hookah tobacco also tends to be much lower on nicotine content and devoid of many of the more harmful substances found in cigarettes, such as tar.

But still, you have to be careful of the amount of smoke you inhale. It is easy to inhale much more smoke from a round of hookah smoking than you would from a normal cigarette, meaning that even though the tobacco may be lower in nicotine, you end up consuming more through the sheer volume of smoke you take in. As with anything, moderation is the key to enjoying hookah smoke. A study in Pakistan showed that people who smoke only through a hookah have a lower risk of developing cancer than people who smoke only cigarettes, but for heavy hookah users, that risk goes way up. If you’re concerned about the possibility of nicotine addiction, stick to smoking herbal varieties.