Going Up in Smoke: Hookah Smoking Among Youngsters

Posted on August 16, 2011 in Health and Life

By Rahul Singh

The whole of Gujarat was shocked by the news of a 13 year old boy in Surat falling to his death from a roof top while fleeing from a police raid in a Hookah bar. This prompted the government to confiscate the license of all the hookah bars in the city and strict action has been taken in other cities like Ahmedabad as well. But the bigger question still prevails, is the increasing hookah trend in youngsters healthy?

Starved of good hangout places in our cities’ hookah bars are havens for the young to socialize with friends and also experience the “cool” hookah flavours. Flavours like strawberry and apple are attractive to teenagers who are also excited by the lightheaded feeling it gives. There exists popular belief that hookahs are not harmful because they are natural and hence much safer than smoking cigarettes. But in reality it has been found that hookahs are more harmful than cigarettes! People think that nicotine and tar are filtered by the water pipe of hookahs. But complete removal is not done and enough nicotine exists to make a regular smoker addictive and the tar can cause clogging of lungs and arteries. Also its carcinogens harm the tissues in mouth and can lead to oral cancer.

The youth are of course blissfully unaware or outright ignorant of these facts. Of course hookahs are not as readily available as cigarettes and hence one cannot use hookahs in cars or in the college backyard. But according to a WHO advisory one session of hookah could be equal to 100 cigarettes (depending on smoke inhaled it varies from person to person) simply because hookah sessions are as long as 1-2 hours that is, many more puffs (compared to average of 8-12 in a cigarette) and hence much more smoke inhalation. Therefore, health hazards of hookah smoking are undeniable. Even if the factor of hookah not being readily available is considered, smoking hookah 3-4 times a week is highly dangerous and should be avoided. The pleasant aroma and tastes of hookah are undoubtedly tempting but the consumption should be kept down to once or twice in a month.

Hookah is also glamorizing smoking. Posting pictures of puffing smoke on social networking profiles is quite common as it looks cool. Glamorization of smoking, mainly due to the swanky ambience in smoking bars, can lead a person to move on to more available sources like cigarettes, cigars and even bidis! Thus it can set a bad health trend for the younger generation. Even more alarming is the fact that teenagers as young as 12 year old are also found visiting these bars regularly in spite of ‘strict’ age regulations and thus risk being addicted to smoking too early in life. Hence it is important that the age norms are followed by the bars and illegal bars be cracked down upon.

Recently, the governments in Mumbai and Ahmedabad have started cracking whips on hookah bars, even those who follow all the rules. Though smoking is a bad habit, it is more important to make people aware of the consequences rather than subjecting them to constant moral policing. Youngsters above 18 should be allowed to make their own decisions and control themselves to avoid ill-effect on health. Closing hookah bars will only result in back-door-entry-bars and illegal consumption. Given that hookahs are available for buying and taking homes as well, shutting down bars is not the solution. Hookah culture is here to stay and in a country like India where the youth is the driving force of progress I guess it is better to knock some sense into the youth rather than forcing them to quit smoking.