Clearing the Air: Hookah Smoking on the Rise

Scott Mullen, Section Editor

Tobacco smoking, in its traditional form, has been declining in popularity over the past few decades, both among adults and high school students. Nowadays, at least in the Blue Valley area, cigarette smoking seems almost taboo, and with increased restrictions on where it is allowed, a smoker is something of a rare sight. Yet despite this anti-tobacco trend, the last few years have seen a curious rise in the popularity of hookah smoking, even among BV West Students.

The hookah is Middle Eastern water pipe that is used to smoke flavored tobacco. The tobacco leaves are held in a bowl at the top of the hookah and heated by coals that are set on foil covering the bowl. The smoke from the leaves is drawn downwards and mixed with water vapor. The water vapor cools the smoke, and the smoker inhales the mixture of smoke and water vapor through a long hose.

Though there are specialized shops that sell hookahs, people generally smoke at hookah lounges. Most hookah lounges are similar to coffee houses, with a bar where patrons order and pay, and tables, couches and chairs where they smoke. Most have Middle Eastern décor, and employees work to give the lounge a Middle Eastern atmosphere. The number of hookah lounges is on the rise, especially in college towns such as Lawrence, Kan. Many of the hookah lounges in the Kansas City area are located in the Westport district of Kansas City, Mo.

High School students see hookah smoking as a social activity and a way to spend time out with friends.

“I think kids like it since its legal and it’s something you can do with friends,” senior and hookah owner Sam Benson said. “It’s a way to have fun and relax.”

Generally, a group orders a hookah for the table, and shares it by passing around the hose. In addition to smoking, there is often Middle Eastern music and dancing at some of the larger hookah lounges.

“A lot of my friends had turned 18 and it was a thing that we had wanted to do, so we decided to go try and we had a good time,” senior Logan Fulgham said. “It’s relaxing and fun and just a cool place to hang out. We go just to have a good time with friends but I can see why people would want to go to enjoy the hookah.”

Visiting hookah lounges is not the only way to partake in hookah smoking, however. Hookahs can be purchased for home use, and some students take advantage of this.

“I’d seen it in movies and on TV shows, and I thought it was interesting,” Benson said. “I’m not really interested in tobacco smoking aspect of it, I’m more interested in the social get-together aspect.”

Hookah ownership is not illegal, but there are some laws that owners should be aware of. For instance, because a hookah can be used to smoke illegal substances, a police officer would have reason to confiscate it as drug paraphernalia. The owner would then have to go to court to prove that he or she was using it for legal purposes in order to get it back.

In addition, according to Walter Schoemaker, Attorney for the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Unit, if any tobacco or tobacco products are used in the Hookah process, then all applicable tax, use, and retail laws must be followed. This includes Kansas’s prohibition on sale of tobacco to minors.

Aside from legal concerns and the cost of hookah smoking, which is generally about $12 – $15 per hookah, students need to take the possible health risks into consideration when making the choice to smoke hookah.

“There is a misperception among youth that hookah smoking is less dangerous than cigarette smoking, so there is an increase in usage,” Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communication for the American Lung Association Michelle Bernth said. “But there is no lowered risk in smoking through a water pipe than traditional smoking.”

The short-term risks of hookah smoking can include tightness in the chest, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, and increased affects of asthma if it is present. Long-term affects can include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, cancer, and other cardiovascular issues.

The American Lung Association (ALA) aims to promote awareness of the risks of tobacco to young people who are interested in smoking, and provide resources to help people quit smoking.

“What I would tell someone is that it is as dangerous as other kinds of smoking,” Bernth said. “When someone starts smoking they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of decreased health. Ninety per cent of people who become addicted to tobacco form that addiction before they are 18 years old, so making the decision to smoke is making a lifelong decision at a young age.”

The ALA offers smoking cessation resources toll-free at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or at

Hookah smoking is a fast-growing industry, and it is being pushed to grow even faster by its rising popularity among young adults. Most go to hookah lounges on social outings, but it is important for people to carefully consider the legal and medical consequences that the activity could carry. Because students generally smoke hookah fairly infrequently, most don’t put much weight on the health risks, but it is something to be concerned about.