What Is a Hookah?

What is a hookah?

A hookah is a smoking device. There are two kinds of hookahs: the traditional ones that you see in hookah bars and newer hookah pens (e-hookahs).

Traditional Hookahs

A traditional hookah is a type of water pipe. The tobacco burns in a small bowl. The smoke from the tobacco then travels through a water chamber and along a rubber hose to a mouthpiece. The smoker inhales through this mouthpiece.

Some people think that using a hookah is safer than smoking cigarettes since the water filters the smoke. That’s probably not true, though. Hookah smoke still contains nicotine, an addictive drug that’s toxic in high amounts. Hookah smoke also contains other chemicals that can harm the body when they’re breathed deeply into your lungs.

Some studies suggest that hookah smoking could be even more dangerous than cigarettes because people often smoke at hookah bars for an hour or more.

Hookah Pens

Hookah pens are basically another kind of e-cigarette (vape pen). Some disposable hookah pens vaporize a liquid that the makers claim has no nicotine, tobacco, or tar. This is hard to prove because the pens and liquids haven’t been studied or tested by independent research groups.

Even if hookah pens are free of nicotine, they still aren’t a good idea. They usually contain chemical flavorings to make them taste like candy. Because this makes the smoking experience less harsh, experts worry that hookah pens can pull people into more damaging forms of smoking. Breathing those extra chemicals deeply into your lungs might be harmful, too.

There are many kinds of vaping pens and liquids, so it’s easy to be confused about which ones have nicotine or added chemicals. The best way to avoid being exposed to the possibly dangerous or addictive chemicals in hookahs or hookah pens is to stay away from hookah smoking.

Reviewed by: Neil Izenberg, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.