New study reveals hidden risks behind smoking hookah


By Nathan Stephenson, Contributor

Hookah lounges are popular destinations among 18- to 20-year-olds as they are too young to drink at bars, but too old to stay home. Hookah’s popularity among young people is evident in light of the results of a survey conducted by the CDC in 2012, which revealed that about 19 percent of 12th-grade students had smoked hookah in the previous year.
Hookah users smoke flavored tobacco, or shisha, though a water pipe. Shisha is tamped into a bowl and ignited by charcoal. The smoke is filtered through a glass basin partially filled with water and drawn out of a hose.
Hookah smoke contains high levels of toxic compounds like tar and cancer-causing chemicals and users are exposed to greater levels of carbon monoxide than even cigarette smokers. In addition, smoking hookah has been linked to lung and oral cancers, respiratory illness and heart diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic.
However, visiting a local hookah lounge is more sensible than picking up a pack of cigarettes in some ways. While cigarette smoke is considered by many to have an offensive odor, shisha is made with sweetener and fruit, giving it a more enjoyable smell. 
Additionally, smoking hookah does not stain the user’s teeth the same way smoking cigarettes does. This is because of the way shisha is manufactured, according to an article published on in August of 2013.
Smoking hookah is widely regarded as a social activity. Many people visit hookah lounges not only to socialize and drink tea with their friends, but to meet new people and make connections with them. Expanding one’s social circle is an endearing pursuit, but the social nature of smoking hookah contributes to the health risks it poses.
Passing the hose around of circle of friends has the capacity to spread infectious illnesses. This risk can be reduced by using disposable plastic hookah tips. Each user places their own plastic tip on the end of the hose when it’s their turn to puff to ensure a sanitary smoking session.   
The social aspect of smoking hookah is centric to Hookah 402, a hookah lounge located near 72nd and Farnam Streets. Brothers Stephan and Marco Serrano own the lounge, and describe it as “laid back and welcoming.”
“We don’t have isolated table seat-ing, we only have elongated bench seating where you’re forced to be in proximity with people you don’t know,” Stephan said. “People come to Hookah 402 to destress and connect authentically with others.”
Despite the health risks that come with smoking hookah, Serrano believes that it helps prevent people from indulging in dangerous or illegal alternatives, such as drugs or underage drinking.
Young Americans for Liberty, a pro-liberty organization founded in 2008, has a nationwide network of over 500 with chapters in college campuses across all 50 states. The University of Nebraska at Omaha chapter held a social fundraiser at Hookah 402 on April 22 to garner support to overturn the proposed smoking ban at UNO.
Hookah 402 opened in August 2012. Despite a growing pool of research revealing the risks of smoking hookah, Stephan and Marco plan on expanding their business into Lincoln. However, they have encountered some setbacks. 
“Obviously, the biggest hurdle was when the supreme court made smoking indoors illegal for a period of time,” Stephan said. “That was a really scary moment for us.”
In 2009, the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act eliminated indoor smoking in restaurants, bars and other indoor workplaces. A Supreme Court ruling in 2014 expanded this ban to cigar bars and tobacco outlets, such as Hookah 402. This was in effect until February 2015 when state lawmakers passed Legislative Bill 118, which allowed the smoking of pipes and cigars in cigar bars and tobacco outlets. 
However, Marco and Stephan did not adhere to the 2014 Supreme Court ruling when it was in effect. 
“We kept our heads down, continued to operate as we did,” Stephan said. “LB118 ended up getting passed before anything happened.”