Hookah bars are popping up nationwide near college campuses and urban dining, shopping and entertainment enclaves like spring dandelions. They are regarded by some as a novel and chic way to socialize and embrace multiculturalism.
A May 31, 2011 article in the New York Times “Putting a Crimp in the Hookah” highlights the growing popularity of this centuries-old tradition and raising health concerns posed by smoking the aromatic blend of tobacco, molasses and fruit known as shisha.
The establ ishments also called shisha bars or dens invite patrons to share the flavored tobacco from a communal hookah (water pipe) or nargile which is placed on each table.
According to the Times article, there is a common belief among smokers that hookah smoke is less dangerous to health than cigarettes, because it “is filtered through water, so you get fewer solid particles.”
But in fact, hookahs are far from safe because a typical hookah session can last up to an hour, with smokers typically taking long, deep breaths, the smoke inhaled can equal 100 cigarettes or more, according to a 2005 study by the World Health Organization.
That study also found that the water in hookahs filters out less than 5 percent of the nicotine. Moreover, hookah smoke contains tar, heavy metals, toxic vapors and other cancer-causing chemicals. An additional hazard: the tobacco in the hookahs is heated with charcoal, leading to dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide, even for people who spend time in hookah bars without actually smoking, according to a recent University of Florida study.
Several studies have linked hookah use to many of the same diseases associated with cigarette smoking, like lung, oral and bladder cancer, as well as clogged arteries, heart disease and adverse effects during pregnancy.
And now, legislators, college administrators, local governments and health advocates are taking action against what many of them call the newest front on the ever-shifting war on tobacco.
In California, New York, Connecticut and Oregon, state lawmakers have introduced bills that would ban or limit indoor hookah bars. Boston and Maine have already ended exemptions in their indoor-smoking laws that had allowed hookah bars to thrive.
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