Hooked on hookah

Ryan Sheridan

Strawberry, grape and watermelon are just a few of the many flavors you might taste when smoking a hookah.

Hookah, a 17th-century Indian creation that rose to popularity in the Middle East, is now a popular trend among college students.

“Not only is smoking hookah very relaxing,” said Collin Bensinger, sophomore entrepreneurship major, “but it provides an opportunity to gather your friends and talk about whatever.”

How It Works

A hookah, or shisha, is usually shared between four to five people. Smokers inhale through a hose attached to a glass tobacco pipe that passes through water to cool the smoke. It gives smokers a buzz without the feeling of burning like cigarettes do.

The Risks

Hookah was created by Indian physician Hakim Abul Fateh Gilani to “purify” the effects of tobacco. Through the centuries this has lead to myths that insist hookah is safe.

“Our view of hookah safety could be paralleled to how society used to view cigarettes,” said Sharon Briggs, a health educator at University Health Services. “Even though some individuals would compare hookah use to an occasional beer, some things in moderation are just as risky.”

Briggs offers her input on some other common myths about smoking hookah.

Myth: Since hookah is filtered through water, it filters out the harmful ingredients.

This is due to the fact that the light cigarette does not provide the same immediate nicotine effect that a regular cigarette does. So, as noted, the mild feeling a hookah user experiences is giving them a false sense of security.

“Additionally, the toxins are a very real concern regardless of the temperature of the smoke inhaled.”

Myth: Hookah isn’t addictive.

“Any product that contains nicotine is addictive.

“Certain types of tobacco as well as the means of obtaining the nicotine may have an impact on the amount of nicotine, but in the end absorbing nicotine is, and will be, addicting. In many cases, the tobacco in a hookah may contain higher levels of nicotine than a cigarette.”

Myth: At least hookahs are safer than cigarettes.

“Any time an individual is inhaling a toxic substance into the lungs there is risk, and there are several issues that actually make hookahs worse than cigarettes.

“Eight times more carbon monoxide and up to 36 times more tar will be inhaled by a hookah smoker than by a cigarette smoker. Other issues that hookah smokers face include infections transmitted by individuals sharing a mouthpiece. Colds, the flu and even herpes can be passed from one individual to another.”

Despite these risks, Bensinger is still hooked on hookah.

“The risks do not bother me,” he said. “In most cases, a person does not smoke hookah by themselves.”

Local Flavors

Puff-n-Stuff, located at 423 E. Main St., sells hookahs ranging from $45 to $100. The store sees most of its business at the start of each semester. “Students use them outside the dorms,” said Alex Zarlino, an employee at Puff-n-Stuff.

There are more than 300 hookah bars in the U.S, many of which are located near college campuses, and Kent is no exception. The FireFly, located at 124 S. Water St. in downtown Kent, is a hot spot for Kent State students to hang out and smoke hookah.

“I think we offer something that a lot of places in Kent don’t,” said Serene Shehabi, a manager at FireFly and senior biology major. “You can come here and dance around or sit and study. It kind of adapts to whatever you want it to be. Plus, we have a lot of fun flavors.”

Bensinger often frequents the bar to get his hookah fix.

“I enjoy the FireFly because of the low lighting and the kind of music [they play],” he said. “My friends and I have even gone as far as to buy our own hookahs to create a similar setting right in our own homes.”

Contact features correspondent Ryan Sheridan at [email protected].