You’ve probably seen a hookah. Most children who grew up in the United States have almost certainly seen a hookah. But, like most people, you’ve likely forgotten what one looks like and what they’re used for. Think back. Recall the tale of a girl named Alice who seemingly stranded in a strange, imaginative world. In Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice in Wonderland, Alice stumbles upon an arrogant and inquisitive caterpillar. Perched atop a giant mushroom, and smoking what appears to be a strange musical instrument, the caterpillar asks Alice a quite memorable question– “Who are YOU?” The musical instrument is not really a musical instrument at all. It is, in fact, a hookah and this hookah-smoking caterpillar is how most children get their first glimpse of this curiously strange smoking device.
When Lewis Carroll wrote the story of Alice in 1865, hookahs had been in existence and in use for several centuries. Though never really popular in European countries, the hookah was and is still very popular in Eastern cultures like Egypt and India. So, how is it that this mysterious thing called hookah has never seen its day in Europe or, in more recent times, the United States? Perhaps the time is upon us!
In the past, cigars have been the ‘gourmet smoke’ for those wishing to break out of the conventional, cigarette-smoking mold. Crafted from higher-grade tobaccos and hand-rolled in exotic lands, cigars have become a true contender to the additive-infused cigarettes of modern day. Cigars have become so popular, in fact, that they have cropped up an entire industry that is based around their existence. Cigar and specialty tobacco shops are evidence of the profit to be made from selling tobacco in a different form factor than that of the cigarette. In addition to cigar shops, cigar bars have proven that smoking-tailored establishments can be both socially-acceptable and huge profit centers for their owners. It is society’s acceptance of the cigar bar that makes hookah bars and hookah cafes a possibility!
There is no doubt that the tobacco industry has seen شيشة الكترونية better days and, from the aftermath of the Big Tobacco lawsuits, it’s a wonder that these companies are still around. Did you know that there are over 600 legally-allowed additives that tobacco companies can add to their cigarettes? That’s an amazing cocktail of chemicals that cigarette smokers are putting into their bodies every time they choose to light up! In comparison, today’s hookah tobacco, commonly referred to as shisha (pronounced: shee-shuh), is comprised only of a handful of natural ingredients. These ingredients are typically tobacco, all-natural glycerin or honey, sugar and natural flavorings. That’s 596 additives short of what could be in a normal, run-of-the-pack cigarette! It’s facts like these that bring most people to believe that hookah smoking is a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, no major study has been performed to evaluate the health effects of smoking hookah. So, we’ll have to wait for a definitive answer to that question.
When the Turkish invented the hookah centuries ago, they did so with one goal in mind. Up to that time, tobacco had been smoked in pipes that are reminiscent of American Indian peace pipes. When smoking from these pipes, the smoke was at a temperature very close to the burning tobacco itself. Someone came up with the idea of filtering the smoke through water to cool the smoke to an enjoyable temperature. The simplicity of the hookah made it an instant hit and has been a major reason why hookahs are still prevalent in so many Eastern cultures. Though not originally planned when the hookah was invented, the water that the smoke passes through actually acts as a natural filter that helps filter tar and other impurities created when tobacco is smoked. Many years after the hookah was invented, someone would accidentally drop their tobacco into some molasses, thus paving the way for modern hookah shisha. It was the addition of molasses, now substituted by all-natural glycerin, which slowed the rate at which the tobacco burned and actually made it possible to heat the tobacco rather than burning it. Heating tobacco results in greater flavor potential and lowers the amount of nicotine that is released while smoking.