What’s a hookah? It’s an exotic water pipe, recently popular on American campuses. The hookah glass and metal water pipes are used for smoking a blend of tobacco, molasses and fruit called shisha. More than 40% of over 3,000 students at universities in North Carolina had smoked a hookah at least once, according to a 2008 study.
Young people believe that hookah smoke is not as harmful as cigarette smoke because the hookah smoke is filtered through water, resulting in fewer solid particles. But hookahs are not safe. The water does not filter all the harmful chemicals in the tobacco smoke and the water in hookahs filters out less than 5% of the nicotine. Because a hookah session can last an hour with smokers taking long and deep breaths the smoke inhaled can equal 100 cigarettes according to a 2005 study by the World Health Organization. Hookah smoke also contains heavy metals, tar, and other cancerous chemicals and exposes users to carbon monoxide. Hookah smoking is linked to lung, bladder and oral cancer. And the communally passed hookahs can spread herpes and other infections.
In California, Connecticut and Oregon state legislators have introduced bills to ban or limit hookah bars. Other states, including New York, are also taking steps against the practice and some universities have banned hookahs in the dormitories.
With our awareness of oral cancer, the dental community needs to focus more attention on the rising popularity of the hookah and address the misconceptions about its safety.