According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, almost 80% of Americans currently live in a municipality that bans smoking in the workplace, local bars, restaurants, and other public and private spaces. The smoking ban campaign aims to address health concerns associated with cigarettes by achieving cleaner indoor air. Some cities, like Belmont, California, have even gone as far as outlawing smoking in public outdoor spaces as well, leaving private property as the only ban-free space for smokers.
An unforeseen outcome of smoking ban policies are associated with the sharp rise in the use of hookah (also referred to as shisha or gallion). Since 2005, the quantity and demographic of hookah consumption has changed substantially — overall hookah use has jumped 40%.
As an Iranian-American, I am no stranger to hookah. My first hookah “sessions” took place at Persian “mehmoonies,” or parties during my early teenage years; I spent hours at a time sharing stories over fruit-flavored tobacco.
I have also observed a shift in practices of hookah-smoking: no longer a strictly Middle-Eastern practice reserved for special occassions, hookah has become a trendy pastime among the majority of my college-age peers, many of them Caucasian males between the ages of 18 and 24.
Amongst the general trends, it has also been found that hookah is most popular amongst those with some college education as well as those who currently smoke or recently quit cigarettes. These statistics beg the following question: Why would a well-educated group of Americans recently become engaged in an activity with no domestic cultural roots, especially when that activity involves a high amount of health risk? Researchers of the American Lung Association suggest that this recent rise in hookah use is, in part, a consequence of the recent bans on cigarette smoking. Because many people may be using hookah to help them quit cigarettes, it is wrongly adopting a reputation of a “safe” way to get a tobacco fix.
This mistake is often made because hookah smoke passes through water, which some incorrectly perceive to act as an effective filter. But the many contaminants of tobacco remain in the smoke regardless of its passage through water. The charcoal that fuels the hookah also releases carbon monoxide, a toxic gas. Because of these factors, and because hookah smoking sessions last much longer than a cigarette, hookah smoking is a deadly hobby.
Perhaps it is time for young people to realize that hookah does count as smoking. Hookah is associated with all of the same health consequences as cigarette smoke. Smoking bans were implemented to help eliminate these diseases. By replacing cigarettes with hookah we are merely continuing towards a future with an elderly population swarming with lung, bladder, and throat cancers.
Although smoking ban policies primarily aim to protect non-smokers from the health hazards associated with second-hand smoke, many who support the bans also cite discouragement of cigarette use as a benefit of the prohibitory policy. Unfortunately, it appears that smoking bans actually exacerbate the health conditions of some smokers. This is a commonly overlooked fact that should, perhaps, be included in smoking ban discussions in the future.