Hookah: up in smoke


Over the last few years, hookah has become popular among college students. With many  attracted to the varied flavors, social hookah lounges and a seemingly safer alternative to smoking cigarettes or other forms of tobacco, smoking hookah has become a popular college pastime. But what should students know about smoking hookah and why has it become so popular so quickly? 

Shisha is flavored tobacco smoked through a water pipe. The tobacco is heated using coals while the smoke from a single or multi-stemmed vessel called a hookah passes through water and is inhaled by the smoker from a mouthpiece. Often, a hookah will be shared among two or more people at a time and has shisha of a sweet flavor such as mint, strawberry or mango.

Dylan Humenay, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy, has been smoking hookah for about three years. He likes the social aspect of it and said it is one of the biggest benefits of smoking hookah to him. 

“It’s not like everyone getting together watching a movie. You can have a conversation with it as well,” he said. 

Besides that, Humenay said smoking hookah is both a good way to relax and a less harsh smoking experience. 

“Especially during finals week and midterms week when we’re studying, we’ll usually get away from the house or a busy area like the library and go to a hookah lounge, all put our headphones in and do our work,” he said.

He described what he knew about the effects of smoking hookah as compared to other forms of tobacco.

“Most people only smoke hookah once or twice a week and they’re not always cigarette users so it’s not as harmful,” he said. “Generally, what I’ve told people is when you smoke a bowl of hookah it’s similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes. Usually you’ll smoke for 45 minutes to an hour so basically you’re introduced to five or six cigarettes.” 

Though Humenay said he believes a good amount of research involving hookah is objective based. In other words, he

said the researchers are trying to steer young adults away from it. 

However, according to a study by the USF College of Public Health, more than half of the 478 undergraduate and graduate students surveyed believed smoking hookah was a safer alternative to cigarettes, despite research that points to the contrary. 

Jamie Corvin, principal investigator for the study, said in an article on the USF Health website “the World Health Organization estimates that one 45-minute session of smoking hookah is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.”

Samantha Zilaitis, a freshman majoring in psychology, said she doesn’t know much about hookah but chooses not to smoke it because it’s “just not her thing.” She also refrains from smoking other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. 

Like Humenay, she said she thinks most college students smoke hookah because of the social aspect that accompanies it. 

“It’s something easy, you can go to the hookah bars and it’s also something that’s legal. You can just go to a hookah bar, and if you’re 18, you can do it,” she said. As far as the effects of smoking hookah, Zilaitis said she was unsure.

“I thought it was just water vapor, but I found out recently that it’s not,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hookah smoke releases harmful chemicals and can also lead to various types of cancer. The charcoal used to heat the tobacco can raise health risks by producing high levels of carbon monoxide and several chemicals that can cause cancer. Shisha and its smoke contain several toxic agents known to cause lung, bladder and oral cancers.

While hookah smoke doesn’t contain many of the harmful additives that cigarettes do, it still contains nicotine and poses health risks to the smoker due to a longer smoking time and more elaborate setup compared to cigarettes. 

Hookah will continue to be popular among college students. But as more research becomes available, it’s important for students to be aware of what they are consuming and know the risks involved.