Hookah as hazardous as cigarettes, studies say

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A group of people sit around a table passing a hose among them, taking turns exhaling smoke rings as the sun sets. On the table stands the hookah, a Middle-Eastern water pipe designed for groups of people to smoke flavored tobacco, giving the smoke a distinct smell and taste.

A hookah is a unique water-pipe that enables users to smolder the flavored tobacco, or shisha, with hot coals, as opposed to burning the tobacco with direct heat. This, along with the water in the body of the device, allows the smoke to cool down before reaching the user’s mouth, which often makes it more appealing to smokers.

Many students have brought their hookahs to K-State as a social activity used to pass time with hopes of connecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

“It’s good for social aspects. I have friends who enjoy smoking hookah with me,” said Olivia Johnson, freshman in secondary education. “I’ve met a few new people off campus.”

The tobacco is placed in the bowl of the device, usually under a layer of tinfoil punctured here and there with small holes. After the tobacco is in the bowl, a hot coal is placed on top of the tinfoil.

When a user inhales from the mouthpiece, the heat from the coal is sucked into the bowl and vaporizes the tobacco to produce smoke. It then passes through a water chamber in the middle of the hookah that delivers a much cooler and smoother type of smoke than a cigarette.

“It’s not bad for you, it’s not a drug. I don’t know, I just like it,” Johnson said.

According to a June 1, 2011, ABC News article by Mikaela Conley, a common misconception about smoking shisha is that it is less harmful to the lungs because the smoke is cooled down by the water. Many smokers believe the water acts as a filter for toxins.

While it’s true the water acts as a cooling agent, it does not filter out the toxic chemicals of tobacco. In addition to inhaling tobacco smoke, people are also inhaling smoke from the charcoal.

Smoking hookah, like cigarettes, is perfectly legal to do on campus as long as students abide by K-State’s smoking policy.

“As long as the hookah is being used to smoke tobacco in accordance with current smoking policy, then we don’t have a problem,” said Jessica Brooks, interim support services commander of the K-State Police Department.

K-State’s smoking policy states smoking is not permitted inside or within 30 feet of any university building. Violations of these restrictions can result in a misdemeanor charge and is punishable by state or local law.

“University police could be called if the building managers experienced a problem regarding the smoking policy or suspected criminal activity was taking place,” Brooks said.

According to a Feb. 20, 2010, article by Dr. Richard D. Hunt on mayoclinic.com, hookah smoke contains many of the toxic compounds found in cigarette smoke, including tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals, and delivers about the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette. The tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe and the water does not filter out any toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke.

A hookah session can also last to up to an hour, exposing the users to more smoke. The cooling process allows users to inhale more smoke since it is not as harsh as cigarette smoke, which burns the tobacco directly.

While cigarettes may not emit as much smoke as a hookah in a regular session, people often smoke multiple cigarettes in a day. With a hookah, people tend to space out the sessions, and many do not smoke hookah daily.

Johnson commented that she doesn’t smoke hookah everyday like people do with cigarettes.

“Once a week, or once a month,” she said about how often she smokes. “Whenever I feel like it.”

Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students, said he has neither seen much of a problem with smoking hookah on campus nor believes it is an issue.

“K-State’s current tobacco policy includes hookah smoking,” Bosco said.

As long as students do not smoke in or within 30 feet of a campus building and follow the restrictions in K-State’s policy, they are free to to exhale as many smoke rings as they please.

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