Looking through the haze: Flavors, scent attract smokers, but could mask hookah’s danger



Danger is appearing in a form familiar to many college students.

Ellen Hahn, professor and director of the Tobacco Policy Research Program, said hookah, or waterpipe smoking, can be worse than smoking cigarettes.

She said hookah is generally smoked for a longer period of time in a single sitting, and thus the smoker is exposed to nicotine and poisonous chemicals and gases for a longer period of time.

Hahn said hookah’s heat source makes it more dangerous than cigarettes because it is often charcoal-based and produces more carbon dioxide than cigarettes do when heated.

She said hookah tobacco contains the same chemicals and carcinogens in cigarettes and cigars. Hookah also involves a larger mass of tobacco, making it more dangerous to the smoker.

However, hookah generally does not seem comparable to cigarette or cigar smoking because of its flavor.

“A lot of people don’t realize it’s tobacco because often its laced with a good smell (that is) flavorful or fruity,” Hahn said.

“Unfortunately, hookah smoking is something that is very dangerous not only for the firsthand smoker, but the secondhand smoker,” Hahn said. Since smoking hookah is often a social event, smokers inhale more than just what they actually smoke themselves.

However, hookah is not usually smoked as often as cigarettes by its users.

“(Hookah is) more of a casual thing and not habitual,” political science sophomore Thomas Hinkel said.

He said people don’t think as much about the health effects if they’re already smokers.

Hahn said the amount of smoke in a one-hour session of hookah smoking is equivalent to the amount inhaled from about 100 cigarettes.

“One of the problems here in Lexington is our smoke-free law has an exemption for retail tobacco stores,” Hahn said.

A city ordinance says that a retail tobacco store is exempt from Lexington’s smoke-free policy, as long as its sales generate less than 25 percent of its total sales. Hookah cafes like Prince Hookah Lounge and Casablanca Hookah Lounge, both on South Limestone, fall under this definition.

Prince Hookah Lounge manager Nas Amira said its customer base covers people of all ages.

Hahn said hookah smoking is as addictive as cigarette smoking.

Usually, though, it is not smoked as often as cigarettes.

Amira said frequent customers may come once a week, while cigarette users smoke every day.

“It is tobacco, so it has all the same hazards that a regular cigarette or cigar has,” Hahn said.