By Faith Zamblé To a small child, the word “hookah” may recall images of the confounding caterpillar of Alice in Wonderland fame, while the average adult might be suspicious, mistaking hookah for other smoking devices—smoking devices with illegal connotations. However, to a growing numbers of college students, hookah has become a viable plan for a night out with friends, (and in some cases, a household appliance) leaving many people wondering where the trend came from, how it works, and most importantly, what effects it might have.
The first point is easy to address. A hookah, in its most basic form, is simply a water pipe and, despite its relatively new popularity here in the United States, hookah is part of a centuries old tradition. Originally from ancient Persia and India, the practice eventually spread to the wider Middle East and Northern Africa, before making its way to Europe in the metaphorical back pockets of immigrants. It has only been within the span of previous decades, however, that hookah usage has reached a borderline level of mainstream acceptance in the U.S., specifically among college students. All this to say, hookah is not new by any stretch of the imagination; it has simply taken us (much) longer to catch on.
With the exception perhaps of people sharing a cigarette or communal marijuana use, smoking is generally a singular activity. Hookah, on the other hand has become a staple offering in Middle Eastern cafes where people would meet to discuss politics and philosophy. Its presence was the equivalent to drinking wine as an integral part of intellectual debate in European countries. Hookah has held onto this aspect of community throughout the years, and so, many sessions are done in groups with friends.
And now, the real question: should you use hookah? Most in the medical field would say no: tar, carcinogens, and habit forming nicotine are a part of any kind of smoking. However, many in the Eastern world would say yes, citing the community and peace hookah facilitates. Ultimately, this a choice people must make for themselves, and it is much more helpful to do so from an informed place.
For those who may decide to partake, here are some tips for keeping your experience as safe as possible.
DON’T: Use a hookah in a place where you might create a second hand smoke for non-consenting members of society.
DO: Use different mouthpieces/tips when smoking. Sharing tips is one of the fastest ways to get a communicable disease.
DON’T: Believe it’s safer than cigarette use. It’s not.
DO: Actively monitor how frequently you smoke. Excessive use can lead to addiction; all tobacco has nicotine--even the "pure" kind.
DON'T: Go into a hookah lounge without expecting to spend some money.
DO: Go with friends! Hookah is meant to be enjoyed in a group, not alone. (Plus, it helps with the cost.)