The Science Behind Hookah Smoke

The hookah also known as kalyan, sheesha, shisha, okka, goza, or nargeela, is a popular hobby enjoyed worldwide. Its origin creator, and the time of its invention are often asked about due to its widespread popularity.

Composition of Smoke from Shisha

Source: MedicalNewsToday

Smoke from shisha is an intricate mix of substances that are formed when both the tobacco and charcoal combust. The most important parts include:

Nicotine: A substance responsible for making tobacco addictive. Even though water cools smoke, it doesn’t significantly minimize nicotine absorption. Therefore, it has similar addictive potential to cigarettes.

Tar: In contrast to cigarettes, hookah smoke tar is not filtered by water and can be substantial. It consists of tar plus other toxic chemicals and carcinogens.

Carbon Monoxide (CO): Being a colorless gas without any smell produced through burning of charcoal, CO can diminish oxygen supply in the body. High levels of CO inhaled by those who love smoking hookahs may lead to severe cardiovascular problems like dizziness and headaches .

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): These compounds consist benzene, formaldehyde as well as acetaldehyde all known for their poisonous nature or cancer causing effect. They come from both the charcoal and tobacco .

Heavy Metals: Heating process releases metals like arsenic, lead including chromium that they are poisonous to human beings’ health. Such metals tend to accumulate in different organs such as lungs over time .

Health Implications

Hookah smoking has several health risks due to the array of harmful substances taken in during an average session.

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Breathing problems: People who smoke hookah are more likely to contract respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis and have reduced lung capacity. Deep inhalation of huge puffs may deposit considerable amounts of matter on the lungs​ ​.

Cardiovascular Effect: Excessive levels of carbon monoxide, nicotine can increase heart rate and blood pressure leading to cardiovascular diseases. If exposed chronically, it can damage blood vessels and the heart​ ​.

Risk of Cancer: The high levels of carcinogens such as tar and benzene in smoke makes long-term usage pose increased possibility for cancers, especially oral, lung and bladder cancer​ ​.

Addiction: Smoking tobacco in a hookah pipe can be addictive since the nicotine content is similar to that found in cigarettes. Significantly, these social events are often extended so there is great amount of intake for nicotine​.

The Role of Water in Hookah

Many people mistakenly believe that water present within the hookah bowl serves as a filter against toxicants. While it does cool down smoke making it smoother and less irritating to the throat, it doesn’t effectively remove most toxins including carcinogens from it. Although some nicotine is absorbed by the water, a lot of it still gets to the smoker and contributes to hookah addiction.

Source: Guess Hookah

There is little that water does to reduce tar or heavy metals found in smoke. These substances go through the water and into the lungs of smokers. This means that cooling with water does not lower carbon monoxide levels. Nevertheless CO use remains a major problem for hookah smokers .

Comparisons With Cigarette Smoking

While an individual cigarette can be smoked within few minutes, there are some instances where a single session of hookah may last as long as 30 -60 minutes or even more than that. Such longer exposure times increases the potential intake of harmful substances.

Smoking Volume: The reason why one hookah session might mean inhaling more smoke and dangerous substances compared to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes is due to it taking longer time period to smoke and also inhaling more deeply .

Chemical Exposure: Hookah smokers are exposed to higher levels of certain toxicants than cigarette smokers because they burn charcoal which produces additional chemicals .

Source: Bar and Bench


The science behind hookah smoke reveals a complex and potentially harmful practice. Despite the perceived reduction in harm due to the cooling water, hookah smoking exposes users to significant levels of nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, and other toxic substances. The cultural allure and social nature of hookah should not obscure the significant health risks it poses.

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