Smoking ban brings increase in hookah parties
Sadeke Brooks, Staff Reporter
Hookahs might be the new fad that has made its way into popular parties and events, but there are questions around its legality because of Jamaica's anti-smoking laws, and how safe the practice is.
The practice is so popular among teenagers and young adults that there are popular parties like Hookah Thursdays and Off The Hook named after it. Another event, Shots and Hookahs, is also scheduled to start next week.
Twenty-three-year-old Andre Smithis a regular at these events and has often used hookahs, which are single or multi-stemmed instruments for vaporising and smoking flavoured tobacco called shisha. The vapour is passed through a water basin, often glass-based, before inhalation.
Smith, who lives in St Andrew, says he is not a cigarette smoker, but has been attending hookah parties since May last year and usually stays at these events for about two hours. And, like most persons, he believes a hookah is a safer option to smoking cigarettes.
"Possibly yes (it is safer) because there are less chemicals involved. I don't think smoking in general is safe, but if you are asking which one is safer, I would say the hookah is," he said.
But according to Daniel Brown, substance abuse officer at National Council on Drug Abuse, hookahs are just as dangerous as cigarettes.
"The danger with hookahs is that most people think it is safer than smoking cigarettes. The myth is that the water purifies the tobacco and that is not so. The same damages (as tobacco) are still present," he told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said a hookah session of 20 minutes to an hour is equivalent to 200 cigarette puffs. Therefore, in one hookah session, one might be consuming the equivalent of 10 to 15 cigarettes.
According to a 2011 study, 'Preventing Chronic Disease', published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, "The charcoal used to heat tobacco in the hookah increases the health risks by producing smoke that contains high levels of carbon monoxide, metals, and cancer-causing chemicals."
It continued, "A typical one-hour-long hookah smoking session involves 200 puffs, while an average cigarette is 20 puffs. The volume of smoke inhaled during a typical hookah session is about 90,000 millilitres, compared with 500 to 600 millilitres inhaled when smoking a cigarette. Using a hookah to smoke tobacco poses a serious potential health hazard to smokers and others exposed to the emitted smoke."
The study added that "Hookah smoke contains many of the same harmful toxins as cigarette smoke and has been associated with lung cancer, respiratory illness, low birth weight, and periodontal disease."
But it is not just the damage from the tobacco that is a cause for concern. Brown says infectious diseases can be transmitted as well.
"They share the mouthpiece and move it from one person to the next. If they don't change the mouthpiece, whatever disease the person has can be passed on to another person through the saliva," Brown said, noting that some of the common diseases that can be caught from this practice are herpes, tuberculosis, influenza and hepatitis.
Brown further stressed that these events (hookah events) should not be taking place based on The Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations 2013, which states that smoking is prohibited in all enclosed places, on public transportation, workplaces, government-owned and occupied buildings, health facilities, including pharmacies, sports, athletics and recreational facilities for use by the public, educational institutions, areas specifically for use by children, and places of collective use, such as bus stops.
Neville Graham, director of communications at the Ministry of Health, also stressed that the practice is not safe as "there is no kind of tobacco in any amount that is safe. The regulations speak of tobacco, tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and electronic nicotine delivery systems. All are affected by the ban on smoking in specified public places."
While the ministry has not done any research specifically on hookahs, he says there is enough literature to suggest that the practice is harmful to the human body, whether first or second-hand.
Despite the growing popularity of the hookahs, Graham said his ministry has not done any campaigns specifically about hookah use.
"We are sharpening our campaign strategies to warn of the wicked lure of hookahs and hookah parties," he said.
Alex 'Alca' Morrison, promoter of Hookah Thursdays, one of the first hookah parties in Jamaica, says he made changes to his event when the anti-smoking laws were implemented last year.
"When the law came into effect, we moved it (hookahs) to the balcony," he told The Sunday Gleaner.
Interestingly, Morrison said his event seemed to gain popularity when the new law came into effect.
"In travelling and going to Miami, you realise that hookahs were getting popular, even non-smokers liked it. The smoking laws, when it came into effect, made the event so much more popular," he said, noting that most persons believe hookahs are safer than cigarettes.
He added that more promoters are now providing hookahs for their patrons.
Deidrick Miller of Hookah City says his company has been renting hookahs for parties across the island. He says his company sells and rents hookahs, and will be coming out with a special line of hookah pens. He said a hookah pen costs between $1,000 and $1,500 and lasts for three to five days, while a two-hose hookah pipe is rented for between $7,000 and $9,000 and the four-hose pipe is rented for $8,000 to $12,000. He added that when he rents the hookah pipes for events, he provides a full service.
Contrary to popular belief, he said Hookah City also provides non-tobacco/non-nicotine hookahs. He says the tobacco is replaced by molasses in this case. But the hookahs that include tobacco are still very popular, Miller says.
"What you are really doing is steaming it. Most events we do so far, we are educating the mass about it," he told The Sunday Gleaner.
And he believes hookahs are definitely safer than smoking cigarettes.
"It is safer because if you are smoking a hookah that doesn't have nicotine or tobacco, it would only be vapour. The ones that have tobacco, it is really steaming. It's really vapour that you intake, and that would be less than smoking a cigarette," Miller said.
And now that the summer months are upon us, he said he expects even more business than before.
"It's really a growing market. For the Caribbean, it's growing, and growing very fast. In the summertime, we might have events every week," Miller said.
Name change on request