(KUTV) A trendy smoking habit is gaining popularity in the United States.
It’s not marijuana. They aren’t Cigarettes.
It is Hookah -- an ancient smoking method that has been around for centuries, originating in the Middle East. Experts say one reason it may be gaining popularity in the United States is because many U.S. soldiers are picking up the habit while in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Hookah is a water-based pipe, typically filled with a mixture of molasses, tobacco and some type of fruit. The mixture is then heated by charcoal or wood embers. When a person inhales through the attached hose, the smoke passes through water – which cools and filters it.
Hookah is often perceived as an exotic, safer method of smoking. And there are even social clubs dedicated to its existence.
“It is a social event to sit with a pipe and a good, strong cup of coffee and solve the world’s problems,” said FRed Cvar, owner of the ‘Tinder Box.’
In the last few years, approximately 300 new Hookah bars have been established in the United States. Part of the attraction is the idea of smoking “fruit,” which propels the conception that it is safer than smoking traditional forms of tobacco.
However, that is a misconception, according to some health officials. In fact, they say participating in Hookah can be even More detrimental than a cigarette habit.
“There is a perception that because it contains less tobacco… it’s safer than Cigarettes,” said Dr. Steve Hadden of the Utah department of Tobacco Prevention and Control.
“A 40 minute session on a hookah produces the same amount of carbon dioxide a person would get from smoking five packs of Cigarettes, which is incRedible.”
In 2005, the World Health Organization even issued an advisory on the use of Hookah warning of its potentially harmful effects.
Some studies have even shown that after Hookah smoke has passed through water, it still contains high levels of carbon dioxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals – especially if charcoal is used to heat the tobacco.
Another risk to consider: Communicable diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis and herpes, passed from person to person through the common use of the Hookah’s mouthpiece.
But some Hookah bar operators say their customers are not so naпve.
“They do know it’s tobacco. It’s not like we’re saying it’s a fruit or anything else,” said Nate Porter, owner of the Huka Bar in Murray. “Everyone who comes through this door is an adult. They know the risk.”
Those who participate in Hookah maintain that the ultimate responsibility lies with the user and that the practice is intended to be an occasional social experience – not an everyday habit.
Health experts, though, say the dangers are still present.
“The analogy I use is binge drinking versus chronic drinking,” Hadden said. “This is the equivalent to ‘binge smoking.’”
The World Health Organization is still examining the dangers of Hookah, saying that More research needs to be done on the practice.