Posts filed under ‘Oral Health’

Hookah bars: Not a safe alternative for cigarettes

Recently, a “hookah bar” has opened for business in Rochester, NY. Such establishments have been opening up in communities across the US in recent years. Tobacco control experts around the country have been reporting that young people in particular are attracted to such places that offer flavored tobacco, and the ability to use tobacco indoors – even in areas that have “clean indoor air” laws. To get around the laws, they do not serve alcohol or food so they can’t be labeled as a restaurant or a bar. Also, it is consistently reported that the attraction to hookahs is that they are “less harmful” than cigarettes, or not harmful at all because hookahs use unprocessed tobacco.

Tobacco control experts should heighten their efforts to get the word out about the dangers of hookah use however. Consider the following facts.

Recent reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) cast doubt on those claims, saying they hookah is not a harmless alternative to cigarettes. According to WHO, preliminary research reveals some serious misconceptions about the dangers of hookah smoking. Hookah smokers “may inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.”

The WHO reports that hookah smoke still “contains high levels of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals.” And users still get nicotine, which causes addiction.

There is also the health risk from the by-products from the combustion of a charcoal pellet used to keep the smoking mixture burning in hookahs.

Users are at higher risk for contracting oral herpes and other communicable diseases. The evidence-base for this statement is new and hopefully growing, but consider this anecdotal report: After attending a Hookah bar in March, 2008 in Fort Collins, CO, several students developed mouth herpes, according to a local Infection Control Physician at Colorado State University’s Hartshorn Health Services.

One hour of smoking a hookah exposes users to 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke of a single cigarette, according to a report on The smoke also has arsenic, lead, nickel, and 36 times the tar of a single cigarette and 15 times the CO.

Finally, the marketing of flavored tobacco like “wild berry” has been used by the tobacco industry before to lure non-smokers, especially young people, to begin a life-long addiction to their products. Hookah Bars around the country offer such flavored choices.

Tobacco control experts should plan for effective dissemination of the dangers of hookah use.

Anyone thinking about quitting any type of tobacco product can call the New York State Smoker’s Quitline for information and support at 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487), and visit the Smokers’ Quitsite at Physician offices can ask the Quitline about how they can get free CME training to help their nicotine-dependent patients (or visit

Scott McIntosh, PhD


May 12, 2008 at 12:37 pm 12 comments


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