Dear Punjint: “The deal,” as they say, is that hookah smoking is simply awesome, in the way that only a communal activity whose health risks haven’t yet been fully assessed can be.
Hookah is like alcohol was in the ’90s (the 1890s, I mean), like cigarettes in the ’50s, coke in the ’80s, and meth in the… O.K., maybe never meth. But the point is, hookah’s real hook is the mystery, baby. Is it good for you? Is it deadly? We don’t know! Still, whether you’re a Lebanese purist who eschews girly tobacco flavors like “peach” and “cinnamon spice,” or a collar-popping frat-dweller who cradles that curvy mouthpiece in a fashion most unprep, hookah’s current heat rivals Lauren Bacall do-ing a French inhale.
But what, you ask, are all the beautiful (and scruffy) people smoking in those glorious, bubbly pipes? To smoke out the answer, Ace rang up Thomas Eissenberg, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who is currently preparing a study on hookah use. He swore that it’s pure tobacco in there (plus a sweetener, like sugar or honey, and often some flavoring). You can get hookah tobacco in all kinds of flavors—although Ace recommends sticking mainly to the manly ones (too many mango smoke rings can wreck a guy’s juju, you know).
The jury’s still out on the effects of hookah, but Eissenberg suspects that “we’re going to find out
that there are some toxins that are unique to water pipe smoke…and some toxins identical to those that are in cigarette smoke,” he says. The tobacco in hookahs has the same nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide as cigarette tobacco—but exposure might be even worse, because smokers inhale 10 times longer and deeper, and take 10 times as many puffs, since a full-
up hookah takes about an hour to finish, Eissen-berg says. Geez, way to harsh Ace’s buzz, Tom!
As to whether it’s sanitary—well, to be honest, Ace thinks you sound just a bit germo-phobic. The germ quo-tient on a hookah mouthpiece is no worse than, say, a communion wine glass. (So stick that
in your water pipe, you Puri-tans!) Ace recommends you just think of group smoking as one big makeout session—with six other people.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 18 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.