Charcoal-free hookah?

Originally Published: November 1, 2013
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Hi Alice!

I'm a teenage girl looking into hookah and I'm searching the internet on health risks. A common set I'm finding is the charcoal and the tobacco. I'm curious if they make hookah without having charcoal or tobacco. I have a few health risks already, so I want to be sure that it's 100% safe for me before I jump in and smoke with my friends. So, what I'm asking is, can I find charcoal and tobacco free hookah? I've found tobacco free, but so far, no charcoal free. Another thing I'd like to know is if there are any other risks to this that I might have missed? I'm perfectly fine with skipping this all together, but I think it'd be fun. Anyway, help?

Dear Reader,

Smoking hookah does indeed have health risks, which are not limited to the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) byproducts of charcoal. The tar produced when shisha burns can also cause a range of health problems, similar to those that cigarette smokers face. And, of course, the nicotine in the tobacco is addictive. You’re correct that non-tobacco shisha is an alternative; however, there’s no such thing as a charcoal-free hookah pipe (the coal is the ember that burns the shisha). What does exist are tobacco-, nicotine-, and charcoal-free hookah options available in the form of an electronic shisha pen. Unfortunately, much like e-cigarettes, not much is known about the safety and health effects of smoking an electronic shisha pen.

These pens, AKA electronic shisha sticks or e-hookah, are battery operated and function like e-cigarettes, vaporizing the liquid they contain for you to inhale. The “e-liquid” is usually made of water, fruit flavoring, vegetable glycerin, and propylene glycol. Although these last two ingredients sound like toxic chemicals, they’re actually commonly used food additives that are safe to ingest. Many brands of e-hookahs don’t contain nicotine, but some brands do, so make sure to check labels carefully. And while shisha pens allow you to avoid the known harmful substances contained in regular hookah, it should be noted that they are a relatively new product and haven’t yet been proven safe to use.

Another potential drawback to e-hookahs is that they don’t imitate the vibe of an actual hookah pipe, which lends itself to sharing with friends — as it sounds like you want to do. While they can be passed around in a group, buying refills/replacements and recharging the battery might get tedious and expensive. As with all things, you have to weigh these disadvantages against your curiosity to try smoking hookah.

Have fun, and be safe!

Alice