Hooked on Hookah

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Underage teens join growing hookah fad
By Peggy Spear
Knight Ridder

WALNUT CREEK – August 24, 2005 Craig MacFarlane isn't a smoker and says he never will be. But that doesn't keep him from hankering for hookah.

The 18-year-old from Danville enjoys getting together with his friends regularly to use a hookah, a practice he picked up during his freshman year of college at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo. Smoking tobacco concoctions from hookahs -- water pipes that originated in Turkey more than 500 years ago -- is increasing in popularity among young people as evidenced by the rise in urban lounges devoted to hookah smoking.

The trend has health professionals concerned that, despite the claims of young users, smoking from
hookahs is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. ``People, especially kids, think that because hookah smoke is water-cooled and filtered, it is safe, but that's not true,'' says Serena Chen.

It's hard to call something that's been around for 500 years a fad, but even longtime smokers -- like Adnan Abusharkh, owner of San Francisco's Pride of the Mediterranean cafe and hookah bar -- say it has been gaining popularity in the past few years, especially among young people. Smoking the hookah, also sometimes called narghile, shisha or hubble-bubble, is a way to relax after a meal and to show respect to guests, Abusharkh says. His hookah bar is so successful he plans to open another one.
If he does, chances are many of his customers will be people like Chris Paizis, who just finished his freshman year at Chapman College in Southern California. ``It's neat to smoke hookah,'' says the 18-year-old Paizis. ``It gives out an immediate exotic vibe.'' Nikki Deguzman, 17, also likes the social aspect of sharing a hookah pipe. ``You can't do it alone,'' she explains. ``It makes it an immediate event.'' .

MacFarlane says many teens who are too young to get into one of the local hookah bars purchase pipes -- which range in price from $30 to about $100 -- and find their own place to smoke. Chen and other health professionals are frightened by the allure of hookah smoking.

``The hookah craze can result in young kids getting addicted to nicotine,'' she says.
``Anything that hooks kids into harmful habits scares me.'' She also says studies have shown that smoking hookah pipes can lead to serious disorders such as bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease and viruses transferred by the pipe's previous users. Still, since when have young people been scared off by warnings? ``Teenagers and young adults feel they are invincible,'' Chen says. ``It's the same message we are trying to get across about cigarette smoking, or cigar smoking: It's not glamorous, it's dangerous.''

Hazards of hookah

  • Studies have shown that hookah pipes pose hazards similar to smoking cigarettes.
  • Although the water bowls filter the smoke, smokers still inhale tar and nicotine.
  • Hookah has been reported to cause oral, esophageal and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and nicotine addiction.
  • Smoking hookah is illegal in California for anyone under 18.


What is hookah? (pronounced hoo-kuh)

• Originating in India, the hookah -- also known as narghile, shisha, hubble-bubble or Turkish water pipes – draw smoke cooled and filtered over a water container.

• Smoking hookah is a popular custom in some Middle Eastern countries. The tobacco is soaked in

molasses and infused with flavors such as strawberry, apricot, banana, mango or mint.

• Hookah lounges charge a per-person fee to patrons who usually come in groups to share a pipe, with

separate mouthpieces, and inhale tobacco.