Among youth, a new style of tobacco smoking has been gaining in popularity. In this practice, flavored tobacco preparations are incinerated with charcoal inside a traditional Middle Eastern device known as a hookah. These exotic contraptions, which look like a cross between Scottish bagpipes and Barbara Eden’s bottle from “I Dream of Jeannie,” funnel their smoke through a water chamber before piping it out to users through rubber hoses that allow for group smoking. Supposedly, the water helps purify the smoke, making it less potent and hazardous.
Growth Of Hookah Smoking Among Young People
Hookah smoking has been practiced on these shores since the 1960s, although it was largely confined to avant-garde circles in past decades. But for unknown reasons, it is now catching on with young people, and in a big way: a 2010 survey found that 16 percent of high school seniors had smoked tobacco from a hookah in the last year, and in a 2011 study, 40 percent of U.S. university students admitted they had tried hookah smoking. Since the year 2000, over 300 hookah bars have opened across the country, virtually all of them catering primarily to a college-age crowd—and this number is continuing to grow.
Medical authorities are extremely worried about this trend, which may be helping to redeem tobacco’s unsavory reputation. The flavored tobacco mixes burned in hookahs are similar in chemical make-up to what is found in cigarettes, and the suggestion that hookah smoking might be safer is not supported by scientific evidence.
Toxins In Hookah Smoke
The smoke produced inside these chamber pots of toxicity has been found to contain high levels of poisonous gases, cancer-causing agents, heavy metals, tar and nicotine, the latter of which is responsible for smoking’s addictive effects. All in all, there really is no discernible difference in content between cigarette smoke and hookah smoke; in fact some of the more dangerous substances in both are more concentrated in the hookah version.
Hooked on Hookah?
In a recent study, scientists at the University of California San Francisco recruited 55 test subjects who had smoked tobacco from a hookah. All were asked to refrain from smoking of any kind for a week, after which urine samples were taken in order to establish a baseline of contamination. Each was then instructed to visit his or her favorite hookah bar for an evening of smoking, with a request to take detailed notes so they could let the researchers know how much they had smoked and in what context (alone, with one other person, two other people, etc.). The following morning, new urine samples were taken, and comparisons were made to see how the test subjects’ bodies had been affected by the previous night’s activities.
As expected, the post-hookah urine of the study subjects was loaded with hazardous contaminants.All of the usual suspects associated with tobacco smoking were found, and nicotine levels were levels were 73 times higher, on average, than in the original samples.
This level of nicotine in the bloodstream is more than sufficient to create or reinforce a nicotine addiction, which clearly shows that hookah smoking could be every bit as habit-forming as cigarette smoking.
Smoking Kills, Period
There is an old saying (first appearing in the Bible) that proclaims “there is nothing new under the sun.” This is true of most things, and it is undoubtedly true of smoking. Tobacco, when prepared for smoking, is a nasty conglomeration of toxins, irritants and addictive substances. When used repeatedly, in any form, it guides its users along a twisting, descending path toward premature death.
Hookah smoking is another version of the same old same old, no safer and no less dangerous than conventional cigarette smoking. If hookah use continues to spread among young people, in the decades to come we can expect to see an uptick in the rates of lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other conditions caused by smoking.
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