It seems not a week goes by without someone or some organisation trying to tell us that hookah is dangerous, kids are all at it, and it should be banned outright.
The thing is, this attitude is one driven by ignorance of the industry, the way people smoke and what people smoke, so here are a few home truths to try to put the record straight.
Hookah V Cigarettes
You'll hear a lot of news saying that hookah is much worse that cigarettes. This is based on the amount of smoke that is inhaled, the type of smoke and the fact that people tend to sit smoking for much longer. There is a very social aspect to smoking hookah, and very often a lot of people will gather to smoke around one pipe.
So let's tackle this then.
First off, smoking tends to be more than social. In fact, these days smoking is pretty anti-social with people often having to go outside to get their fix. They also tend to smoke at any time during the day.
Most of the shisha smokers I know will smoke a couple of times a week, maybe at the weekend and often with a number of friends around.
There is a often used statistic that shisha is equivalent to 200 cigarettes, well, let's investigate that using a couple of friends I know as an example.
If there is 200 cigarettes worth of smoke in a hookah pipe, then that assumes that one person is smoking it all in one go. This is very often not the case. It all depends on the tobacco being used, the number of people smoking and whether the pipe is used constantly until it's totally used up.
At one get-together last weekend, I managed to get a couple of draws on a pipe, and that was all I needed to have a good time with a great bunch of people. It was social, there was a pipe and, without going crazy and smoking all night, we had a great time.
But that assumes, again, we're using tobacco. Most of the parties I go to in London will use steam stones or herbal, tobacco-free flavours. This means even less harmful smoke is generated and so the comparison with cigarettes becomes even more tenuous, in fact, it's so tenuous as to be totally unreliable.
Also, let's talk about all the chemicals to be found in cigarettes. There are in fact, over 4000 chemicals in a cigarette from over 500 ingredients. One of the most potent is, obviously, nicotine. Of course, you can get shisha tobacco that contains nicotine if you want, but you can also get some that doesn't.
And steams stones are even better, although some early reports stated that they contain dangerous chemicals, it turns out that the chemicals being detected were actually from the charcoal being used to heat them.
Safe Shisha Use
Let's not beat about the bush. If you smoke a lot of shisha, you're inhaling smoke and this is not good for you. However, we do a lot of things that are not good for us, and it's up to the individual to make the choice.
It's actually been shown in some cases that social use of shisha, smoking and drinking can be beneficial if done socially as it can help those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
So, here are a few tips.
First off, don't be a chain smoker. This goes without saying. If you light up your hookah the minute you wake up and keep going all day, you're asking for trouble.
Secondly, use a herbal shisha or even stones. You'll be surprised at the taste of them and you'll probably feel a lot better afterwards, too.
And finally, make it a social occasion. Make sure you use disposable tips, and invite friends around to enjoy the experience.