You may be hearing a lot about the hookah waterpipe (also called nargile or shisha). You may also hear that it’s a safe alternative to cigarette smoking—but that’s not true. Hookah products are often described as herbal and advertised as tobacco-free, but this is misleading.
The traditional hookah pipe is used to smoke wet tobacco (tobacco mixed with drops of water) or sometimes mixed with glycerine and/or honey. As hookah has become more commercialized over the last 20 years, flavouring is now added to make it even more appealing.
Different hookah products have different amounts of nicotine in them. ‘Washing’ hookah doesn’t affect the amount of nicotine or make it safer. While some hookah products really are tobacco-free herbals, testing shows that even products that say ‘tobacco-free’ may still have tobacco (and therefore nicotine) in them. Nicotine is a very addictive drug that can make it hard to stop using without having the unpleasant symptoms.
Burning tobacco or a herbal hookah product releases chemicals. These chemicals are linked to diseases usually seen when you smoke cigarettes (like cancer, heart disease, and lung disease). They can also cause problems in pregnancy. Studies have found that a hookah user may inhale as much smoke in a 1-hour session as someone who inhaled 47 cigarettes!
Many people believe that hookah is safer than other tobacco products because of the water in the base of the pipe. This isn’t true—the water doesn’t act as a filter for the tar and the other chemicals.
Burning hookah, including hookah that’s tobacco-free, still releases cancer-causing chemicals. In fact, both the first-hand and second-hand smoke herbal hookah produces has these chemicals at levels the same as, or even greater than, tobacco products. That means that anyone around hookah smoke is at risk of the same health problems being exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke.
Sharing the mouthpiece isn’t the safest either. Herpes and other communicable diseases can be spread by sharing a mouthpiece.