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 Smoking, Drinking & Addiction

october 2012

Hooked To Hookah?

Dr Sachin Varma 
Hookah, the new age smoking mantra is no less harmful than regular cigarette smoking, especially if the substance used in hookah is tobacco.
Hookah is a pipe-based smoking device. It has been in use around Asia and Middle Eastern countries for centuries, as a tradition, mostly adopted by the zamindars and royalty to smoke tobacco. In its new swirl on our times, it has the younger generation in its grip. Hookah bars are popping up in shades and nooks around our cities even as the authorities in some cities have stamped down to say NO to hookah bars.

The Myth Of Hookah Smoking
As a device, the hookah basically contains a heatable bowl that contains a smokable substance (tobacco or other flavour). This bowl is connected to a base chamber containing water with a pipe. Another hose-tube like pipe from the smoking chamber is used to inhale the smoke. Hookah smoking is different than normal smoking because the smoke passes through water and the water based moist chamber before being inhaled. Some people assume that tobacco smoke passing through water before inhalation gets rid of its harmful elements and therefore hookah smoking is safe. That is a MYTH!

According to a WHO advisory, a typical one-hour session of hookah smoking exposes the user to 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette. It does not really filter the toxic substance present in tobacco, thus making the person actually smoke more tobacco than he would have done by smoking a cigarette.

Nothing Safe, Flavour or Otherwise
Some hookah bars proclaim themselves to be safer with flavours and nontobacco based substances in their heating bowls. But one must understand that inhaling flavoured smoke may be harmful too, especially to those who have an underlying respiratory ailment, lung disease or asthma.

Also, what may start as fun and a style statement by smoking nontobacco based stuff in a hookah bar may actually convert to a total case of smoking later. It is best to exercise caution.

Quitting Hookah
As with cigarette smoking, unhooking yourself from hookah is not easy. But help is available and you need to keep yourself on course.

A firm resolve is necessary. Remember a single puff can get you back into the habit. There is medical help available with newer drugs and nicotine replacement therapies that can help you if you have enough determination.
Dr Sachin Varma is Consultant Dermatologist, Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals, Kolkata.