By Juliette Delp and David Preut
RICHMOND, Va.– A recent two year-long study conducted by a professor from Virginia Commonwealth University revealed that smoking hookah could be just as harmful as cigarettes.
Led by Dr. Thomas Eissenberg, a VCU professor of biopsychology, the study’s results were featured in the December 2009 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Hookah, or waterpipe, is a method of smoking tobacco that originated in India and Persia, eventually finding its way into the Western world and America. Hookah is smoked by placing tobacco under a hot coal at the top of a tall waterpipe. When a smoker inhales, hot air and smoke are sucked down a shaft, bubbling through water before reaching a smoker’s lungs.
In recent years the hookah industry has seen a boon in business. In October 2008 there were nearly 500 hookah bars nationwide with five new bars opening each month. Many of these bars opened in college towns, such as Richmond.
With the increase of hookah-smoking bars in America, it’s no wonder some have begun to question its effects. Eissenberg is one of them. In his study, Eissenberg found that hookah smoke contains many of the same dangerous chemicals as cigarettes.
“There’s a variety of heavy metals like lead and arsenic that are known to be dangerous, so there’s a lot of things that’s in the smoke,” Eissenberg said.
Eissenberg also said that smoking hookah exposes smokers to nicotine—just as cigarettes do—and can lead to dependency.
“What we demonstrated in our study is that people are clearly getting dependency producing doses of nicotine when they use a hookah for 45 minutes,” Eissenberg said.
But not everyone agrees with Eissenberg or his study. Chris Quinones, manager of the local hookah bar Sahara, said that smoking hookah yields less nicotine and tar than cigarettes. Quinones also said that different varieties of tobacco used for hookah make it less harmful than cigarettes.
“What we’re looking into is this herbal tobacco—flavored shisha,” Quinones said. “There’s no nicotine, no tar, none of the chemicals, everything is natural and it’s herbal.”
Some patrons agree with Quinones. Lindsay Carter, a mass communications sophomore at VCU, believes that hookah is usually smoked less frequently than cigarettes.
“Depends on how often you do it,” Carter said. “You know, with cigarettes you smoke a pack or two a week. That’s probably worse.”
Frequency of smoking aside, Eissenberg still believes that most VCU students have no reason to try hookah.
“Most students are very aware that cigarettes are lethal and many of them have no interest in trying a cigarette. And if you have no interest in trying a cigarette, then there’s absolutely no reason to try hookah,” Eissenberg said.
Eissenberg’s study is one of three separate studies intended to shed some light on hookah and its effects.