Wednesday, January 16, 2008
NY Times Wrong Again
On September 11th, 2007, the NY Times Health section published this article claiming that a bowl of hookah is equal to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes - as far as the adverse effects are concerned (Carbon Monoxides and Tar mainly). This report was based on the widely published, 2005 WHO TobReg "Advisory Note: Waterpipe tobacco smoking: health effects, research needs and recommended actions by regulators." Besides the fact that the NY times is 2 years late here, they also do not do any research other than reading the WHO report. I'm not a journalist, but I assume journalists should not just read a report and report on it, they should like, check their facts or something too, right?
Well, it turns out that Kamal Chaouachi, who has studied the effects of hookah smoking since 1997, published a lengthy rebuttal to the WHO article in 2006: available here.
For those who don't know, to smoke hookah you fill the bowl with shisha - usually around 20g-30g - and cover the bowl with Aluminum. Then fill the base with water, put a coal on the aluminum over the shisha, and pull the smoke through the bowl, the water, and a pipe to your lungs. It is a lite smoke so most people inhale deeply. To prevent burning the shisha, which creates one of the worst tastes known to me, using high quality coals rather than the "Quick-Light" kind and moving them around the bowl provides a much more pleasurable smoking experience. Like I said, the smoke is very light, but it is also fruity and you can get a ton of different fruit flavors. The coals I use are 100% condensed olive seeds.
The WHO tests and NY Times article ignored all this common sense and tradition. The tests described in the NY Times article used a mechanical smoking device, quick-lighting coals, and only 10g of hookah. These are unusual smoking situations: only noobs use quick lighting coals, and 10g of shisha is a tiny amount. You want more shisha in there partially to prevent burning, but also so the session lasts longer. The 10g of hookah and quick-lighting coals produced average temperatures in excess of 600 degrees Celsius. This obviously burns the shisha quite badly, but the mechanical smoking device smoked on. I don't know a single person who smokes burning shisha - and this is the key to the report. The report suggest that a single bowl of hookah is equal to a pack of cigarettes and in my non-scientific opinion this is absolutely true - even an understatement - if the bowl is burning the entire time.
Hookah smoking by people does not conform to the outlandish and unscientific conditions present during the tests the NY Times reported. Nobody smokes burning shisha - the shisha is heated, usually around 100 to 150 degrees Celsius, not burnt. Two to three times as much shisha is typically used in the bowl than the tests did - less shisha allows the shisha to burn a lot easier. Most people stay away from the quick-lighting coals because they are designed for burning incense and have an unknown chemical composition. Though the WHO report does raise some great points - water is a less-effective filter for burning shisha than previously thought and smoking burning shisha quickly (or at all) is bad - their unrealistic lab conditions created chemicals and gasses through the burning shisha that are not present in hookah smoking. Therefore the entire report is a very interesting report of what would happen if people did smoke burning shisha. And that's it. This report is not valid for anyone. Nobody likes burning shisha. In short, in my opinion, the NY Times article shows their usual over-generalization (I am generalizing here) and lack of research into their articles. Now pass the hose.