Hookah trend unhealthy despite popular belief

Photo by Samantha Marx, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Nicole Montero/Staff Writer

When Leannet Gonzalez is stressed, she goes to a local hookah bar for her favorite mix of tobacco called blue mist.

“I just sit back and relax and it takes my stress away,” said the junior journalism student.

But while individuals consider the practice of hookah smoking a recreational activity that is less harmful than smoking actual cigarettes, recent studies show that the habit carries similar health risks.

Like cigarettes, hookah smoking delivers nicotine — an addictive drug that blocks the action of autonomic nerve and skeletal muscle cells — to the blood stream.

According to the Respiratory Medicine Journal, hookah smoking has also been considered a risk factor for various isolated diseases — including different types of cancer, infectious diseases, pulmonary diseases and more.

The University’s ban on tobacco and smoking products took effect January 2011 and includes “cigarette, cigar, pipe, water-pipe or hookah, or any product consumed in a similar manner.”

Nevertheless, students like Gonzalez venture off campus to get their hookah fix.

But Wasim Maziak, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and director of the Syrian Center Tobacco Studies, said the student activity has negative implications, however.

“We’ve seen that hookah delivers larger amounts of carbon monoxide, one of the main cardiovascular risk factors, than cigarettes,” he said. “One of the major carcinogens — substances that cause cancer — called nitrosamines have been found in hookah smokers in levels comparable to cigarette smokers.”

According to Maziak, much of the health risks associated with cigarette smoking are also present with hookah smoking. In fact, due to the duration of the time spent with hookah and the involvement of charcoal, some smoke toxicants, like carbon monoxide, are produced at greater levels in hookah than in cigarettes.

“Smoke from a waterpipe contains many of the toxicants found in cigarette smoke, including nicotine that produces dependence, carbon monoxide that causes cardiovascular disease, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that cause cancer,” Maziak wrote in an article for Global Heart Journal.

The matter of electronic hookah also comes into play.

“I think that anything that isn’t pure air is, essentially, bad for you — especially something with tobacco,” said Nadia Echegoyen, a sophomore majoring in biology. “Even though I do think it’s bad for you, I definitely enjoy it from time to time — both the hookah electronic pen and the actual waterpipe.”

Maziak agrees that, in regards to health, the electronic hookah pens or e-cigarettes are perhaps less harmful because there is no combustion, and no combustion-related harmful substances, like tar, is inhaled. However, the potential risks of the devices are by and large unstudied and they can hook their user on nicotine for life.

“The problem with the youth is that when you talk to them about disease or mortality, they think it’s a long way off,” Maziak said. “They think they’re somehow immortal and that they are immune to everything.”

“Although you can smoke and not get cancer shortly, you can still get one of the other respiratory diseases or, because people share the hookah, you can get a transmitted infectious disease.”

Paola Bayron, junior broadcast journalism major, agreed with Maziak.

“I have friends that have told me that you get really light-headed when smoking hookah or that they have gotten sick and that isn’t something I care to experience,” she said. “Why would I do something that could potentially hurt me in the end? Why would I voluntarily do something that can jeopardize my plans for my future?”

Even after years of research, Maziak’s opinion on hookah smoking is intact.

“Why should we breathe anything but air?” he said. “We should be grateful for that.”


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