In Plain Terms: What's a Hookah?


With hookah bars popping up across the Buffalo-Niagara Region, there is a good chance that you’ve heard of them before. A hookah is a type of water pipe that is used to smoke a tobacco mixture known as shisha, which comes in different flavors, such as apple, mint and even chocolate. Hookah smoking dates back centuries to ancient Persia and India and is growing in popularity among teens and college students.

Unfortunately, hookah smoking is not safe. Mark Travers, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park, explains that smoking hookah is no safer than smoking a cigarette. “When compared to cigarettes, a hookah session delivers twice the nicotine, seven times the carbon monoxide, 30 times the formaldehyde and 80 times the lead to the user,” Dr. Travers explains. “Exposure to secondhand smoke from hookah can exceed the air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency as hookahs emit smoke, not just from tobacco, but also the charcoal used to heat the shisha. These exposures can cause heart disease, respiratory disease and cancer. Even smoke from “herbal” shishas that do not contain tobacco or nicotine is still loaded with the same harmful carcinogens.”

Learn more about hookah smoking on the RPCI Cancer Talk blog by searching “hookah” at