Smoking dates back thousands of years with the use of nicotine containing plants such as belladonna and nicotiana Africana, which were used ceremonially. As far back as 6000 BCE the tobacco used today started growing across the Americas. Natives gave tobacco to Columbus as a gift to what they believed were gods. He accepted the gift but later tossed it away not understanding its worth. Tobacco was even used for currency as it was considered to be very valuable. Monks used tobacco to pay for lodging when they traveled. Today, with more advanced methods of smoking, we explore the hookah vs cigarettes contrast. (archive.tobacco.org/History/Tobacco_History.html)
Hookah vs Cigarettes Usage *
Cigarettes of a sort were found in Mayan artwork as tobacco leaves rolled up and secured by a string. Mexican natives used to smoke tobacco in perfumed reed cigarettes. The cigarettes we know today were made during the American Civil War for soldiers to smoke.
Cigarettes are known to cause all sorts of illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer just to name a few. The danger, of course comes from the many chemicals found in the tobacco both naturally and added by manufacturers. The chemicals, either added or naturally occurring, can be absorbed when chewed or inhaled when smoked. Tobacco does not contain tar. Tar occurs naturally when the tobacco is heated (by burning or other means such as in a water pipe or hookah) and causes a sticky residue to enter the lungs. (American Lung Association)
Hookahs are water pipes comprised of a bowl, smoke chamber, a pipe and a hose with a mouth piece that works by cooling the tobacco (often called shisha, narghile, or goza) smoke as it goes through the water and then through the hose to the user. The heat source is often a lump of burning coal which emits high levels of metals, carbon monoxide, and other cancer-causing chemicals.
The use of hookahs began at least 500 years ago in the Middle East in India, Egypt and Turkey. It is one of the oldest traditions in Turkey.
The tobacco is soaked in molasses or honey and other ingredients to give it flavor. While there are herbal products to use in place of the tobacco, it has many of the same chemicals found in tobacco. (cdc.gov) Flavors include fruits, chocolate, licorice, coconut, and cappuccino.
Hookahs are often smoked in special establishments called hookah bars and are usually smoked in groups by passing the pipe around the group. Everyone shares the same mouth piece. Even though the establishment cleans the pipes between customers, the mouthpieces may not be cleaned well enough to prevent diseases by previous users to be passed along to others. (mayoclinic.org).
Smoke from hookah is cooler and doesn’t burn the lungs from the heat of the smoke, but it does the same damage as the smoke from cigarettes otherwise.
Just like electronic cigarettes, there are now electronic versions of hookahs (hookah pens and steam stones). Nicotine containing liquids which are flavored turn the smoke into a vapor.
It has been found in a 2010 survey by Monitoring the Future that in the past year 1 in 5 high school senior boys smoke hookahs and among the girls it is 1 in 6. Another study found that 22% to 40% of college students use hookahs. (cdc.gov)
Is Hookah Worse than Cigarettes? *
Users think that because it is filtered through water hookah smoke is less harmful than cigarette smoke and less addictive because they think there is no nicotine. Actually, hookah tobacco, or shisha, contains nicotine just like regular tobacco and is just as addictive. An hour-long smoking session exposes the smoker to 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke as is inhaled from just one cigarette.
Users of either hookahs or cigarettes are exposed to many of the same toxic chemicals, and the smoke of hookahs, like cigarettes, can cause heart disease and clog arteries.
A hookah smoking session can last 45 minutes to an hour because the smoker has to suck harder and longer to get the smoke out. The user can be exposed to as much tar and nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. The smoke also has higher levels of arsenic, nickel, and lead. It has 36 times more tar. The carbon monoxide levels is 15 times higher than cigarettes. (health.umd.edu)
- The CDC states that the amount of smoke inhaled in hookahs compared to cigarettes is 90,000 milliliters for hookahs and 500 to 600 milliliters for cigarettes.
- According to a Utah Department of Health fact sheet nicotine levels vary in the tobacco whether in cigarettes or hookah, but studies have found that daily hookah smokers absorb as much nicotine as 10 cigarettes a day, while once in 4 days is equivalent to 2 cigarettes a day.
- Although there are claims that there are devices that make smoking hookah safer, there is no device that is safe. Smoking tobacco is deadly.
- Smokers of both cigarettes and hookahs are at risk for the same diseases: oral, lung, stomach and esophageal cancers, fertility issues, and reduced lung function. Women who smoke hookahs are at the same risk to have low birth weight babies as cigarette smokers.
Some Second Hand Smoke Risks of Hookah and Cigarettes *
The smoke from a hookah emits the chemicals from the tobacco as well as the smoke from the heat source (charcoal).
The American Cancer Society notes almost 7,000 adults die each year from heart disease as a result of exposure to second hand smoke.
There are more than 7,000 chemicals found in the gasses and particles found in tobacco smoke. 250 of those chemicals are harmful and 69 are known to cause cancer.
The tobacco smoke could increase the risk of breast cancer and is still being studied. The chemicals in tobacco smoke is secreted in breast milk, either directly through smoking or through second hand smoke exposure.
Second hand smoke puts pregnant women at risk of having miscarriages and other serious complications to the pregnancy and delivery.
Even though more studies need to be done, a link has been found between second hand smoke and damage to male sperm, causing infertility. (Report from the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office)
Heat Source in Hookah vs Cigarettes *
Charcoal is the heat source for using a hookah since rather than burning the tobacco it is heated a vaporized, unlike cigarettes which burn the tobacco. However, burning charcoal is found to contain benzene, which is one of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke as well so it isn’t eliminated because the the tobacco isn’t burned. Benzene can damage bone marrow, decrease red blood cells leading to anemia, can cause excessive bleeding, and issues with the immune system. Benzene can also cause cancer. (Centers for Disease Control)
The most noted problem with using charcoal is that it emits carbon monoxide which is highly poisonous. Breathing too much can kill. Symptoms include headache, weakness, dizziness, vomiting, and chest pains, or flu-like symptoms. (Centers for Disease Control FAQ on Carbon Monoxide)
In an effort to curb cigarette smoking it has been made illegal indoors in many places throughout the world, including the United States. Heavy taxes have been levied on tobacco products which has shown to decrease the rate of smoking (World Health Organization). However, even with the laws against smoking and heavy taxing of tobacco and products for tobacco use, smoking is still popular. As a result, smoking bars (establishments specifically for smoking) have sprung up. Sometimes these establishments tout themselves as a club with a small membership fee so that they can circumvent the no smoking indoors laws. Specialty shops that once sold cigarettes and cigars are now adding hookah products to their inventory.
Hookahs are the newest trend of this century and its use is growing particularly in the college student population.
- Between 1999 and 2004, 300 hookah bars or cafes opened, usually in college towns.
- Hookah bars and cafes often rent hookah pipes.