Fight the Hookah Hype!

Fear mongers have had plenty to say since the hookah craze hit the United States. With carefully worded headlines intended to provoke widespread fear, the alarmist media has been hard at work spreading as much misinformation about the hookah culture as possible. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I prefer to think that the hype is a direct result of ignorance. And since ignorance propagates fear, it's time to expose the hookah hype.

"Smoking hookah for one hour is the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes!"

Several published studies have jumped on the bandwagon behind this claim, although the number of cigarettes varies from one article to the next. How can this be? Simply put, the stats are false. Not long after the WHO (World Health Organisation) published, in 2005, its "Advisory Note" claiming that hookah smoking poses an international health threat, the hype began in earnest. Despite the glaring errors in WHO's "study," not a single responsible journalist who used the information from the article did his or her homework by investigating the claims the authors of the study had made. When did the folks who work for WHO become infallible? Not only is their study faulty but worse yet, the pseudo-scientists who conducted the research didn't bother to use the correct terminology which resulted in the spread of false information!

Make no mistake about it, smoking can be dangerous to your health; I am not about to claim otherwise. However, when a group as influential as
WHO doesn't know the difference between tambak (raw tobacco) and ma'assel (sweetened flavored tobacco) even when making claims about the dangers of smoking hookah, Houston, we have a problem! It is deceitful to equate tar levels in ma'assel and cigarettes because (1) they are two different types of processed tobacco and (2) the tobacco is burned and consumed via different methods.

Whereas cigarette tobacco is deliberately processed with chemicals designed to create an addiction, ma'assel is not. Ma'assel is natural tobacco soaked in glycerol and flavors making it, by volume, 60%-70% tobacco depending on the manufacturer. Cigarette smokers burn the tobacco -- along with all the crap that tobacco companies add to it -- directly, but any true hookah enthusiast knows that burning ma'assel leads to a most unpleasant smoking experience and seeks to avoid this at all costs! Ma'assel, because of the moisture that the glycerol and flavors provide, is actually vaporized in the smoking process; the tobacco is not burned but rather, heated at a significantly lower temperature than that required to burn to tobacco in a cigarette.

Cigarette smokers carry their addiction with them wherever they go and can light up in a matter of seconds. Hookah smokers, on the other hand, don't have the luxury of lighting up anywhere, anytime and most wouldn't even if they could. In fact, most hookah smokers still follow the etiquette of the Middle East where hookah smoking is an activity meant to be enjoyed in a relaxing, social environment among the company of friends. While cigarette smokers puff continuously to feed their addiction, hookah smokers take a puff or two before passing the hose off to a buddy.
The study that claims 1 hour of hookah smoking is equal to smoking 100 cigarettes is faulty for a variety of reasons.

The average hookah smoker enjoys the pipe far less frequently than the average cigarette smoker fills his ashtray with butts, so why the fear-mongering about the hookah? Could it be that people are afraid of the hookah because it is a non-Western device? Maybe there's a grand conspiracy at work here. . .

For more on the misinformation about hookahs, I recommend taking a look at the
Observatory on Hookah and Health blog. The author does a great job of debunking several myths associated with the hookah.

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