Legal Leisure

Hookah smoking is becoming a popular past time for college students, especially those under 21, but the social activity comes with some health risks. This piece also ran in the Spring 2009 issue.

By Guramrit Kaur Khalsa

The dark rooms fills with the exotic scent of mangoes.  Gathered in a circle, people pass a snake-like tube to one another, mouth to mouth.  They slowly take puffs from a glass water pipe, breathing in the flavored smoke through their lungs and out their nose and mouth.  The music and the scenery evoke a Middle Eastern and South Asian feeling, but they are located right on the Hill.

If you ever find yourself bored after 6 p.m., you can practically step outside your door to Hollywood Hookah.  Last fall, two SU football players opened the hookah lounge on Marshall Street as a hang out spot for Syracuse University students – especially those under 21 – making it the perfect after-hours scene.  The lounge’s assortment of soothing sweet-flavored tobacco, from bubble gum to the “purple people eater,” a concoction of grape, mint and vanilla, emphasizes the low-key locale as a stress relieving setting.

Smoking hookah has become a popular trend especially among college students.  According to a 2008 study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, more than 40 percent of college students at large universities have smoked hookah.  But, even though young hookah smokers are on the rise, the form of water pipe smoking has a deep-rooted history in Asian culture.  The origin of hookah has been traced to India and Persia in the 16th century.  It became popular among wealthy men in society and became a symbol of affluence.  Not only did hookah signify status, but it also became an essential part of social gatherings.

A love of smoking hookah, however, doesn’t have to be connected to your ethnic background, says Jin Hen Ki, a December 2008 graduate.  The 22-year-old began smoking when he was 17 in high school with his friends.  “I’m Korean-Chilean,” says Kim.  “I haven’t heard of many Koreans or Chileans smoking hookah in their respective countries.”  Kim began smoking hookah as a way to get a quick nicotine fix.  “I used to smoke cigarettes back then,” he says.

Alison Clarke, a senior at SU, enjoys hookah for its calming and relaxing qualities.  “It is a very casual and social thing,” she says.  “It is fun to just sit down with my friends and smoke it.”  She first smoked hookah when she saw a water pipe in her sorority sister’s home.  After a few puffs, Clarke felt euphoric and tranquil.

As a health science major, Clarke knows that smoking hookah is unhealthy.  A 2007 American Lung Association report states that smoking hookah for a 45-minute session makes 250 percent more nicotine than cigarettes.  Hookah tobacco has been linked with lung cancer and lung diseases just as much as cigarettes.  Still, Clarke says, the risks won’t make her stop smoking.  “I don’t smoke it everyday,” she says, “so it’s not that bad I guess.”

Kim is also not that concerned with the health risks.  Since he’s already a regular smoker, he feels there’s no added harm.  “It’s a good way to socialize with people and to get my nicotine.”

Myth: The water pipe in hookahs filters out bad ingredients.
Fact: Contrary to beliefs, the water filtration system in hookahs does not filter out any tar, nicotine or cancer-causing chemicals.  Those who share a hookah can be more susceptible to infectious diseases, like hepatitis or herpes.

Myth: Hookah tobacco, also known as shisha, is healthier than regular tobacco because it contains fruit.
Fact: Shisha is still tobacco.  Covering it with fruit does not cover up its tobacco content and its negative effects.

Myth: Hookah is not addictive.
Fact: Hookah can be even more addictive than cigarettes because users ingest higher nicotine levels, which is the primary drug that causes addiction.

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