Hookah smoking comes with more health risksMedo Alotaibi smokes tobacco using a hookah, or water pipe, several days a week, usually two hours at a time, to relax, relieve stress and socialize with fellow University of North Dakota aviation students from Saudi Arabia.
By: By Pamela Knudson , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Medo Alotaibi smokes tobacco using a hookah, or water pipe, several days a week, usually two hours at a time, to relax, relieve stress and socialize with fellow University of North Dakota aviation students from Saudi Arabia.
“The biggest thing is sitting and talking with each other, for the fun,” he said. “We never drink alcohol in our country.”
The students meet at Dreas Hookah Lounge, the only place in Grand Forks, and the first in North Dakota, to offer this pastime.
On weekends, they may have to wait up to an hour to get a water pipe for smoking sessions that usually last three to four hours, Alotaibi said.
Hookah smoking, which originated in India and the Middle East, is catching on throughout the United States, especially among younger people in college towns and larger cities, but medical professionals are concerned that the health risks are largely misunderstood.
“It’s less dangerous than smoking cigarettes,” Alotaibi said. “I can work out at the gym and it doesn’t affect me. Cigarettes make me tired.”
“Hookah is a lot healthier than cigarettes, because you’re not burning the tobacco,” said Andy Brunette, the owner of Dreas Hookah Lounge. “With hookah, you’re vaporizing sugars and nicotine with specialty charcoals.”
To use a hookah, smokers place burning charcoal on pierced foil above the tobacco and smoke is pulled through the water, which cools it. The tobacco used can come in sweet flavors, such as apple, strawberry, grape or Alotaibi’s favorite, double apple.
Some people assume toxic chemicals are filtered out by the water, making hookah smoking safer than cigarettes, said Haley Thorson, tobacco prevention coordinator at the Grand Forks Public Health Department.
“They may believe it, but it’s not true,” said Richard Hurt, professor of medicine and director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “It’s more harmful than cigarette smoking.”
Hookah tobacco is basically the same as other tobacco and can cause the same illnesses — heart disease, emphysema, and cancer of the mouth, lung and trachea — the result of inhaling tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide.
In a typical hookah session, lasting 45 minutes to an hour, the smoker takes in 50 times the quantity of carcinogens as compared to one cigarette, Hurt said, and many times more the amount of formaldehyde and other toxic substances.
“The carbon monoxide concentrations can be very high compared to cigarettes,” he said. “Hookah smokers take in more volume of carbon monoxide in a session than you would get out of smoking a cigarette.”
Hookah smokers also inhale heavy metals, such as chromium, lead and arsenic, from the charcoal used to heat the tobacco, he said.
A University of Florida study, conducted in 2010, found carbon monoxide levels of patrons leaving hookah cafes were three times those of people who visited traditional bars. Even hookah cafe patrons who did not smoke from the water pipe had average elevated carbon monoxide levels similar to cigarette smokers.
Hookah smokers run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning evidenced by lightheadedness and nausea, said Tracey Barnett, the U of F scientist who led the study.
Some hookah smokers claim they experience a “high,” but “they’re probably in the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning,” Barnett said. Emergency rooms have reported visits for carbon monoxide poisoning after hookah smoking, she said.
Tobacco that’s sweetened or flavored can be appealing to younger clientele, Thorson said.
Because of the flavors, people use it longer. One session could last one or two hours, Hurt said. “The effect is equal to smoking a half to one pack of cigarettes. There’s also a little bit of glamour to it. It’s a new thing to do.”
In some locales where equipment is not changed often, the threat of spreading infectious diseases is greater, he said.
Brunette said that doesn’t happen at the Dreas Hookah Lounge. “We use washable hoses that are disinfected after every use,” he said, and some customers bring their own hoses, which aren’t shared.
Business is going “fairly well,” he said, and hookah use is gaining popularity with 18- to 21-year-olds who can’t enter bars but want to enjoy downtown nightlife.
But there won’t be a competitor anytime soon. The Dreas Hookah Lounge opened in November 2009, about four months before the city banned smoking in business places that employ more than one person.
Pamela Knudson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum