Last night was my first time smoking hookah. I went with CM and P to the Nile Cafe. Also known as "shisha," hookah has a long, storied, proud history. Originally from India, hookah smoking is now a common practice in the Middle East (most frequently associated with Turkey and Morocco) and is gaining popularity in many other countries, including the U.S.
Hookah is a huge water pipe with a bowl that holds flavored tobacco. They cover it with some kind of screen and place lit coals on top, which allows the tasty stuff to get hot enough to smoke. Then you take the loose end of the long hose, insert the personal, disposable plastic mouthpiece they give you (safety first!), bring it to your lips, and enjoy.
Hookah is not exactly good for you, but it's not something you do all the time. The water moisture makes the smoke irritate you less, but a 40-minute hookah session consists allows you to consume about 100 to 200 times the smoke and about 70 times the nicotine as you would in one cigarette (peep this WHO report). But if you've been known to enjoy the occasional cigarette, martini, Twinkie, or skydive, you're encountering a similar kind of occasional risk. It definitely gives you a nice buzz, and it tastes delicious, so don't be afraid to do it every so often if you're interested.
However, a wide range of ill physical effects can happen pretty quickly if you don't know what you're doing, including dizziness, coughing, and nausea. I would like to pass on some tips I learned last night:
1. Research hookah bars first. Ain't nothing worse than trying to get all the supplies you will need (about $100 for a small pipe, tobacco, charcoal, etc.) and then having no clue what you're doing. A reputable hookah place will do most of it for you, and it's more social that way. Pay close attention if you want to try this at home.
2. Eat something beforehand, preferably something substantial.
3. Have something to drink while you are smoking. It will help keep your mouth from drying out, and it will soothe your throat if you smoke too much at once.
4. Choose the right tobacco flavor. Less nauseating flavors are, well, more like flavors, things that flavor foods, such as rose, jasmine, anise, lemon, etc. I would stay away from flavors that resemble standalone foods, like pomegranate, chocolate fudge, or *gasp* cola.
5. You don't have to inhale. You can still get all the fun flavor from your hookah if you merely pull. What is pulling? Imagine you are sucking on something, like a lollipop; you wouldn't try to breathe that in, would you? So try the same approach to smoking hookah, especially if you start feeling ill. Suck the smoke in with the suction of your mouth muscles, but don't inhale it. When you blow it out, you'll taste it (especially if you also blow out your nose).
If you try hookah, I hope you have a great time. I did!