A hookah is a traditional Middle Eastern or Asian device for smoking. It is also known as a water pipe, nargeela/arghileh, shisha, kalyan, ghelyoon or Ghalyan, or hubble-bubble. The hookah operates by water-filtration and indirect heat.
Hookahs are water pipes, like bongs. There are four fundamental parts of a hookah:
These basic parts are not varied. The heating apparatus is usually charcoal, but in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, electric heaters are common. The coal is usually placed on a metal mesh or perforated aluminum foil, but these are often omitted to provide a stronger smoke. The hose may or may not be detachable - simple hookahs simply have a tube into the air of the smoke chamber; elaborate hookahs have three or more hoses in a single chamber, with filters attached at one or both ends of the hose.
When a smoker inhales through the tube, a pressure difference forces air past the coal, heating the tobacco, which gives off smoke; the smoke is pulled away from the tobacco, through the water, and into the air of the smoke chamber — whence it is inhaled by the smoker. The pass through the water both filters tar and nicotine from the tobacco in addition to cooling the smoke, giving hookah smoke a smooth feel.
The most commonly used substance (known as tobamel or maassel) is a 1:2 mixture of tobacco with a sweet substance such as honey, molasses, or semi-dried fruit. Originally tobacco was mixed with one of these sweeteners to form jurâk (e.g. Zhaghoul brand), a flavorless, moistened tobacco. Fruit-flavored shisha got its start in the late 1980s when Egyptian tobacco companies experimented with flavored tobacco as a way to sell more products to women. Today, shisha tobacco comes in many flavours, such as apple, strawberry, melon, cappuccino, mango or mint, and is often mixed with dried fruit extracts. Tobacco-free herbal molasses mixtures are also available.
The design of a hookah allows for multiple hoses to lead to a single filtration chamber; this simplifies use by groups. (Too many hoses, however, reduces suction, and smokers may have to cover their mouthpiece while not in use.) Multi-hose hookahs are particularly popular in the Western world, where hookah smoking is a social phenomenon. They are not as common in Asia and Africa.
In Arab society, social smoking is done with a single hose: when the smoker is finished, either the hose is placed back on the table signifying that it is free, or it is handed from one user to the next, folded back on itself so that the mouthpiece does not point at the person receiving it. The receiver taps or slaps the giver on the back of the hand while taking it. In cafes or restaurants, however, it is common for each smoker to order an individual hookah.
Hookahs are traditionally ornately decorated. They have a very distinctive appearance, and bear similarities to the ritual use of the American Indian peace pipe.
Style and Health
Relative to other methods of smoking tobacco, hookah smoke is considered smoother and more flavorful. The quantity of smoke inhaled at one time is also much greater. Shisha smoking is generally believed to be less damaging to health than cigarettes. Research has shown that since the tobacco is being heated (as opposed to burned), fewer carcinogens are produced in the smoke. In addition, addiction happens significantly less frequently with hookahs — though this may be due to cultural factors, as well as the time it takes to set up a hookah.
A review published in the medical journal Pediatrics states that the concentration of cancer-causing and addictive substances in water-pipes may be equal to those found in cigarettes, with the heat involved being sufficient to generate carcinogenic nitrosamines, and the smoldering charcoal adding some carcinogenic hydrocarbons as well as heavy metals to the smoke. Ironically, use of the hookah may increase the smokers toxic exposure, in that studies have shown that the typical hookah smoker spends more time per episode of smoking than do other smokers, presumably because the smoke is less immediately harsh or irritating. This is of concern to doctors in America as 45% of colleges and universities have a hookah lounge near them. A study of Egyptian couples found an association between water-pipe smoking and infertility. However, many objections to the methods used in these studies have been raised. None of the existing studies took into account past tobacco or other drug usage, so it is unclear what ill-effects were due to water-pipe smoking, as opposed to cigarette usage.
Quoting from one of the studies cited below, the quicklighting charcoal, (of unknown composition), might be the biggest hazard for hookah users because it would produce more carbon monoxide and other dangerous substances than the natural one. The author invites people who cannot refrain from smoking hookah (hookah “addicts”) to stop using dangerous “self-lighting” charcoal, and recommends using natural charcoal and braziers in the traditional way, as Persians, Indians, Turks, and Arabs have been doing for centuries.
Hookah smoking has recently become popular in the United States among people not of Middle Eastern origin, especially in the college and university setting, particularly as an alternative to cigarettes or cigars. The idea of hookah less as a tobacco habit and more as a community activity often affords it a wider appeal than cigarettes or cigars.
More and more Westeners are now using hookahs for the smoking of illegal drugs, such as marijuana and crystal meth, as they belive that the unwanted toxic parts of the inhaled fumes are filtered out.
Other alterations include the addition of ice to the water to cool the smoke, or the use fruit juice or other substances (such as wine) instead of or in addition to water. Wine is only used with tobacco, as it can cause vomiting when used with marijuana.
Many of the various names of the hookah are of Indian, Turkish, Uzbek, Persian or Arab origin. Narghile is from the Persian word nārgil, or coconut, and in Sanksrit nārikera. Shisha is from the Persian word shishe, or glass (this is the correct literal translation, not bottle). Another possible derivation of the word hookah stems from Arabic uqqa, meaning small box, pot, or jar. Both names refer to the original methods of constructing the Smoke/Water Chamber part of the hookah (where smoke is filtered).
Narghile is the name most commonly used in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Israel, though the initial n is often dropped. Shisha is more commonly seen in Egypt. In Iran it called Ghalyoun or Ghalyan and in Pakistan it is reffered to as Huqqa.
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