Most hookah lounges are designed to be fun atmospheres where friends gather to smoke flavored tobacco from water pipes. It’s an activity that doesn’t garner the same scrutiny as cigarette smoking.
Yet, there is mounting evidence that hookah is even more dangerous than cigarette smoking. Simply being in a hookah lounge alone is enough to expose you to myriad health risks.
“You’re in an atmosphere where other people are puffing it, so you’re inhaling all of their second-hand hookah and stuff like that,” said LaDarius Gammage of the Florida Department of Health.
What is often branded as a cool, harmless activity is really one of the worst things you can do to your body.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of six facts about hookah that should alarm you.
Fact 1: You’re inhaling substantially more smoke than what comes from one cigarette.
How much more? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people who engage in a one-hour session of hookah can take in “100–200 times the amount of smoke they would inhale from a single cigarette.”
Fact 2: You are susceptible to the same health risks as a traditional smoker.
It’s well documented that cigarette smoking puts you at risk for lung, bladder and oral cancer, along with heart disease. People who smoke hookah are at risk for those same diseases, says the American Lung Association (ALA). Also add chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer of the esophagus to that list.
The tobacco juices from hookah can irritate the mouth, causing gum disease and oral cancers.
Fact 3: You are exposed to way more cancer-causing agents and toxins.
By smoking hookah, you are inhaling tobacco from heated charcoal that passes through a water-filled pipe. When the charcoal is lit, you’re exposed to carbon monoxide and other chemicals and metals.
One of those is benzene, a chemical found in tobacco known to cause cancer in humans. This study shows that people who smoke hookah are exposed to much higher levels of benzene. It also states that hookah smoking is a risk factor for leukemia, a broad term for blood cell cancers.
The CDC reports that in one hookah session alone, people can be exposed to nine times the amount of carbon monoxide and 1.7 times more nicotine than from a single cigarette.
Hookah smoke can contain up to 82 toxic chemicals and agents, the ALA reports.
Fact 4: If you use hookah as a young person, you are more likely to become a cigarette smoker.
Young people, ages 15-23, who have tried hookah are more likely to become regular cigarette smokers, says this study. Another study of young adults and hookah use concludes that, “Current waterpipe smoking is associated with susceptibility to cigarette smoking among young adults in the United States.”
Fact 5: Second-hand hookah smoke is also dangerous
Non-smokers at hookah loungers are exposed to considerably more benzene than average non-smokers.
In a recent video chat with Black Men’s Health, Gammage said that a single trip to the hookah bar for a non-smoker can expose them to those same pollutants.
You don’t have to partake and still inhale enough smoke that suddenly, you are prone to the same risks as a regular smoker.
“And now you just left after one trip to the hookah bar and you’re a lifetime smoker,” Gammage adds.
It’s much worse for people who actually work in hookah bars. Another study says that it’s much worse, because workers are constantly being exposed to elevated levels of pollutants – enough to cause adverse health effects.
That study deems second-hand hookah smoke as an occupational hazard.
Fact 6: Sharing hookah can expose you to other illnesses, including this STD.
A recent TikTok video caused a stir when a user shared that there was a herpes outbreak in her area from people using contaminated hookah devices. There’s truth to this. The American Thoracic Society states that sharing hookah with other people could expose you to hepatitis, tuberculosis, and yes, herpes. Those illnesses can spread through a contaminated hookah mouthpiece.
What’s worrisome is that there is no guarantee that hookah lounges thoroughly clean and disinfect their water pipes. A visit to one becomes its own game of Russian roulette.