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What is a Hookah?

Niki Acker
Updated May 23, 2024
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A hookah is a single- or multi-stemmed water pipe originating in India around the turn of the 17th century. It became extremely popular throughout the Middle East, where it is more often called shisha or narghile. Today, smoking with one of these devices is also popular in Europe, North America, and South Africa, particularly at Middle Eastern themed hookah bars.

The hookah was invented by physician Hakin Abul Fath in an attempt to lessen the ill effects of smoking tobacco. It consists of a water jar, often made of glass, connected by a tube or body to the bowl at the top. Tobacco is placed in the bowl and covered with burning charcoal. Smoke is drawn through a hose leading from the water jar. The hot air is drawn down through the tobacco, and the resultant smoke is filtered through the water before the smoker inhales it.

The tobacco typically smoked in a hookah differs from that smoked in a traditional pipe. It is often sweetened with honey, molasses, fruit, and/or aromatic oils. There is a great variety of flavors, including blended flavors. They also come in different strengths of tobacco. Some blends are tobacco-free.

Though the pipe originated in India, hookah smoking was not always widespread in the country, being limited to rural areas until very recently. Rather, it has become a tradition of countries in the Arab world and surrounding countries. In the past ten years or so, hookah bars have become trendy among the youth of countries around the world.

Though the hookah was intended to be healthier than other ways of smoking tobacco, research suggests that it is not significantly safer. It is typically smoked for 20 to 80 minutes, and one study found that a 45-minute session delivers about 5 to 10% more carbon dioxide and tar than a pack of cigarettes. The effects of hookah smoking and how it compares to other methods of tobacco consumption are not well known, however, and more studies are necessary before conclusive claims can be made.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Sports n' Hobbies editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon932874 — On Feb 13, 2014

E-Hookah is definitely worth the money. I ordered mint and bubblegum and both exceeded my expectations. They were very flavorful.

By anon181117 — On May 28, 2011

I went to a hookah bar last night. The atmosphere was really nice, relaxing. It was a fun experience. I would do it once in a while just to break the monotony of the usual clubbing. Tasted great and had a good time.

By anon174345 — On May 10, 2011

Alfresco hookah lounges are very popular in Istanbul, Turkey. I saw them everywhere when I was there last October. Some even had a line to get in.

By anon124230 — On Nov 04, 2010

It does not have the effects of a drug but it has the social environment and atmosphere that people can get together and lounge.

By anon105185 — On Aug 19, 2010

would someone please explain what we are smoking exactly and what the effects are? is it like smoking weed or just tobacco? or something else?

By foster — On Aug 05, 2010

A lot of tobacco stores sell hookahs, and I'm sure you can find one online as well. I don't know if people sell used ones, but a new one would probably taste better.

By yournamehere — On Aug 01, 2010

Where can I buy a hookah?

Do the hookah lounges sell used ones, or do I need to just look around for one online?

By closerfan12 — On Aug 01, 2010

I've smoked a hookah, but it was never quite my thing.

Maybe I just got a bad hookah pipe, but I got a bad headache.

I'd try it again, I suppose, but I didn't really see what all the fuss was about.

By musicshaman — On Aug 01, 2010

Hookah smoking is really popular nowadays with college kids.

A lot of areas around colleges have hookah lounges, a lot of which even have restaurants attached.

It's pretty cheap, and can be a lot of fun. Of course I wouldn't recommend it all the time because of the health concerns, but I think it can be a great way to relax every once in a while.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Sports n' Hobbies editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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