Hookah smoking can have health effects similar to cigarettes

Tony Lahood, co-owner of FireFly, prepares a hookah Monday night. LESLIE CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

Chilling on massive, fluffy pillows and blowing smoke rings is the newest way Kent State students are relaxing from the stresses of college life.

Students such as Eric Donovan, freshman business administration major, tried hookah for the first time last weekend at FireFly Lounge.

“I was at the guitar store and decided to stop by,” Donovan said. “I used to smoke cigarettes but I quit. I like smoking hookah better. We were told by one of the owners that it was healthier than cigarettes. It is smoother than cigarettes.”

Joe Loury, one of the three owners at FireFly, said smoking hookah is the best alternative to smoking cigarettes.

“The tobacco filters through the water,” Loury said. “Smoking anything isn’t healthy, but hookah is the safest alternative.”

But some people believe college students, who are making hookah more popular in the United States, are being deceived.

“Hookahs are still a relatively new phenomenon in this country,” said Cathy Backinger, acting chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Control Research Branch, in an article published in The New York Times. “A lot of young people think that because it feels smooth, there aren’t any adverse consequences, but they’re wrong.”

Kenneth A. Krebs, former president of the American Academy of Periodontology, said in the article “Sheeshas are Nothing to Smile About,” that tobacco being filtered through water doesn’t necessarily make it healthier.

“Not only does water-pipe smoking include the same substances as cigarette smoke such as carbon monoxide and tar, tobacco used for water pipe smoking contains 2 to 4 percent nicotine versus 1 to 3 percent for cigarettes,” Krebs said.

According to a 2005 World Health Organization study, although some nicotine is absorbed by the water, smokers can be exposed to enough to cause addiction. Also, a “typical one-hour-long water-pipe smoking session involves inhaling 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled with a single cigarette.”

But Koury said there are factors to consider.

“You’re usually sharing (a hookah) with multiple people,” Koury said. “It depends on how big the group is and how many puffs you’re taking.”

Then there is the issue of second-hand smoke.

According to the WHO, “secondhand smoke from water pipes is a mixture of tobacco smoke in addition to smoke from the (charcoal) and therefore poses a serious risk for nonsmokers.”

Ryan Brown, another co-owner of FireFly, said, “We have a good ventilation system,” pointing to a fan set high in the wall. “It keeps the place pretty clear. And we have high ceilings,” he said, although the scent of mixed fruits still lingered in the air.

A study in the Journal of Periodontology found that water-pipe smokers were five times more likely than non-smokers to show signs of gum disease. And in June 2004, Jane Henley, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, found that men who smoked water pipes had five times the risk of lung cancer as non-smokers.

But Brown said hookah is not addictive, and although the tobacco used has a small amount of nicotine, it is less than a cigarette. Also, the tobacco carton says zero percent tar.

There will always be arguments about whether hookah is addicting, but one thing people need to be aware of is germs.

“Another thing that’s different from cigarettes is the sharing,” Backinger said. “Where there’s sharing of a mouthpiece, there’s a risk of infection, and there are some documented cases of herpes.”

But Brown said there’s nothing to worry about while puffing away at Firefly.

“We sanitize the mouth pieces after each use and hand out plastic covers to customers,” Brown said.

And with Ohio passing Issue 5, banning smoking from public places, Firefly won’t be affected by the change.

“If we were planning to become a restaurant, which we’re not, it would affect us,” Koury said. “Since 80 percent of our sales are tobacco, we are not affected by it.”

Contact features correspondents Carrie Circosta at [email protected] and Brianne Carlon at [email protected].