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Hookah and waterpipe smoking

Hookah, or waterpipe smoking (also called nargile or shisha), was traditionally used by older men in India, South Africa, Persia, and Ethiopia. Albertans may be hearing more about hookah as there’s hookah in hookah bars and some restaurants.

You may have heard that hookah is safe. But that’s not true. Research shows that it’s not a safe option to smoking. Messages and ads about hookah products often say they are herbal and don’t have tobacco. But this is misleading.

What is hookah?

Traditional hookah is a mix of tobacco and a sweet-tasting liquid called glycerin. There may also be honey added to it. Hookah can have different amounts of nicotine. While hookah doesn’t always have tobacco, testing shows that even products that say they don’t (are tobacco-free) may actually have tobacco and nicotine.

Nicotine is a very addictive drug. Once you use a product with nicotine, it can be hard to stop using without having unpleasant symptoms.

Over the last 20 years, hookah has become more popular and can be bought in stores. It may also have flavouring added to make it more appealing. Some hookah products say that they are “washed”. But this doesn’t mean that they have less nicotine or that they’re safer to use than other hookah products.

Is hookah safe?

Anytime a hookah product is burned, it releases harmful chemicals. Smoke from hookah has been linked to the same diseases as smoking cigarettes, such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and pregnancy problems.

A lot of people think that hookah is safer than using other tobacco products because there’s water in the base of the pipe. But research tells us that this isn’t true. The water doesn’t act as a filter.

In fact, the World Health Organization found that a hookah user may inhale as much smoke in a 1-hour session as someone who smokes 100 or more cigarettes.

Infectious diseases

Studies of infectious viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, show us that they can stay in the air and on surfaces for a long time.

There’s now a lot more focus on the risk of spreading diseases. Waterpipe use can put you at a higher risk of contact with infectious viruses that cause diseases.

Diseases like herpes and other infectious diseases can spread when you share the same mouthpiece with others. The wetness (moisture) in the waterpipe is a great place for germs to grow. It’s also hard to properly clean and sanitize the mouthpiece and other parts of a waterpipe.

Cancer-causing chemicals

Burning hookah, including hookah that doesn’t have tobacco, still creates cancer-causing chemicals. The levels of these cancer-causing chemicals in hookah smoke are the same as or even higher than tobacco products.

These chemicals are in the smoke that you breathe in from the waterpipe. They’re also in the second-hand smoke that you breathe out. This means that if you’re around hookah smoke, including if you work in hookah bars, you’re at risk for health problems from second-hand smoke.

Current as of: October 9, 2020

Author: Tobacco Reduction Program, Alberta Health Services