The Hookah originated in the North Western provinces of India along the border of Pakistan. These days, many people refer to them as “Hookah “or “Shisha,” although Shisha is actually the syrupy tobacco that is smoked in a Hookah and also known as Mu’assel. Hookah is very popular in the Middle East and is now gaining popularity in North America, South America, and parts of Europe.
I was recently in Pakistan (more on that later), and Hookah Cafes were all over the place. Even restaurants offered Hookahs once your meal was finished. In much of the Middle East, where alcohol is prohibited, teenagers and college students go to Hookah/Shisha Cafes for social gatherings and functions. I was able to bring a few Hookah/Shishas from Pakistan. The one pictured below is a basic glass model but ones with extravagant artwork and different materials can easily be purchased.
As you can see in the pictures, a Hookah is made up of a few important parts.
- The top of the Hookah is referred to as the bowl or head. This is the part that holds the Shisha (flavored tobacco). An aluminum foil is placed over the top of the bowl and a lit charcoal is placed on top of the foil which heats the tobacco. The bowl is usually made out of clay or ceramic.
- The stem and purge valve – The stem is generally made out of stainless steel or brass and its function is to carry the smoke from the bowl all the way down to the base of the hookah. The stem also helps cool the smoke on the way down to the base. The purge valve is attached to the stem and its job is to clear any smoke that may be trapped in the base of the hookah. The lower part of the stem is referred to as the ‘down stem’. This is the part of the stem that goes into the base of the hookah and submerges into the water.
- The Hose – This is the part that connects to the stem and allows you to carry the smoke from the hookah to your mouth. Chances are that the hose you have is made out of metal coil and wrapped in faux-leather. Metal coil is used to help keep its circular shape. If the hose is used on a daily basis, then it is recommended to replace the hose every 3 to 6 months as it will rust. Unless the hose is made of plastic, never run water through the metal coil hose.
- The Base or Water Jar – This part of the hookah is generally made out of glass and is usually filled with water to help filter and cool down the smoke. I said “usually filled with water” because depending on the flavor of the tobacco, people may put in other liquids such as mango, grape, or apple juice to change the flavor of the smoke.
- And here is what the complete Hookah/Shisha set looks like once assembled. This one is a base model purchased in Pakistan and it also came with tongs (not pictured). It was purchased for just under $10. The same model would probably cost about $30 in North America.
Other goodies that I purchased separately include the Al-Fakher flavored tobacco, aluminum foil, and charcoal.
And below you will find a few action shots of the Hookah/Shisha.
The idea of Hookah is pretty sweet but it’s not something that I intend on doing. The Hookah that I own will be used as a decoration piece in my room and will most likely collect dust as soon as the ‘coolness’ factor of owning one wears off. One should never really smoke and tests remain inconclusive on the true health effects of smoking a hookah. It should also be noted that non-tobacco based flavors can be purchased for those who don’t want to smoke tobacco.
Some facts about a hookah:
- An average hookah session will last about 40 minutes.
- In a 40 minute session, a person will do 50 to 200 inhalations ranging in 0.15 to 0.50 liters of smoke.
- In a one hour session, the user will consume about 100-200 times as much smoke as a single cigarette.
- 45 minute session on the hookah equals to 1.7 times the nicotine of one cigarette.
- Water in the base of the hookah does not remove all harmful chemicals.
A study on hookah smoking and cancer in Pakistan was published in 2008. Its objective was “to find serum CEA levels in ever/exclusive hookah smokers, i.e. those who smoked only hookah (no cigarettes, bidis, etc.).” Levels in exclusive hookah smokers were lower compared to cigarette smokers although the difference was not statistically significant between a hookah smoker and a non-smoker. The study also concluded that heavy hookah smoking (2–4 daily preparations; 3–8 sessions a day; 2 to 6 hours) substantially raises CEA levels.
Well, it is up to you whether Hookah/Shisha is right for you. I don’t recommend smoking but suggest trying it at least once if you are slightly curious about what all this is about.