My college-age daughter learned the hazards of hookah the hard way. Fortunately, it was a steep curve leading her to quit relatively quickly.
She bought a pretty pink and silver hookah at a smoke shop, invited friends to her apartment to join her in smoking shisha, and in the process, dropped a hot charcoal on the carpet, burning a hole in it. She then developed bronchitis that lasted for nearly a month.
As an oncology nurse and a mother, I was disturbed to find out how common hookah use is among young people, and their apparent lack of understanding of the hazards. Hookah tobacco and tobacco-free products are just as bad for you as other forms of tobacco use, but less regulated.
A hookah is a water pipe used to smoke charcoal-heated air passed through tobacco or tobacco-free products that are typically flavored and sweetened with molasses or honey. The user inhales the smoke through a tube and mouthpiece shared with others. It is a growing trend in the United States, but an ancient practice in other parts of the world. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, the Monitoring the Future survey found that among high school seniors in the United States, about one in five boys (17%) and one in six girls (15%) had used a hookah in the past year, nearly the same number as those who smoke cigarettes -- and this number may be climbing.
For 50 years, the Surgeon General has reported the health risks of tobacco use contributing to a significant decline in cigarette smoking among adults and students. Unfortunately, the myths associated with hookah smoking promote its use despite the emerging evidence that it is just as lethal.
"Although studies have identified serious health problems associated with hookah use and exposure to its secondhand smoke, most people seem to be unaware of these dangers. Hookah use is widely viewed as a safe alternative to cigarette smoking rather than a potential health hazard. In fact, for young people, hookah use may represent initial stage of later addiction and the transition to cigarettes," according to a report published by The Bacchus Network. Hookah may be more attractive to young people because of its social nature, but passing the mouthpiece among users exposes them to communicable diseases and viruses, including oral herpes.
Let's get the word out that hookah tobacco and tobacco-free products are just as hazardous and addictive as other forms of tobacco use. Smoke from hookah -- whether it contains nicotine or not -- still contains carcinogens and toxins that can cause lung and heart disease.