Monday, 15 August 2011

Puff the magic HOOKA and enjoy yourself

I stopped smoking back in March 2007 after about 10 years of active smoking habits. And I must say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, one decision to make my friends who used to say "Ohh, you will never make it" feel embarrassed by their lack of support. I am not a smoker any more and everything regarding my health and mood has changed. The constant coughing, the tiredness after a few levels of stairs, the poor performance when exerting myself, the weakness of an immune system that would never be able to challenge the weakest colds, and most of all the anxiety levels and irritability that could drive me to procrastination by postponing quitting for the sake of just feeling normal. The reality is that cigarettes have nicotine, nicotine causes addiction in an "almost exponential fashion", gets one by the gut and you'll stick to it for as long as you're alive because whatever people say it is still a very strong social habit. With people smoking to "relax", between tasks, after a nervous situation, during hectic phases, for all the reasons and for none people smoke. People smoke when they are too stressed, and then they smoke because they like the coolness of relaxing, smoke because it's cold, and then with sunglasses under a soothing sunbath, others smoke because they feel hungry, and then because that special one after a good meal is gooooood, and 99.9% smoke as a reward... and they do reward themselves several times a day until the package is empty! The reason is people are addicted to nicotine and the withdrawal effects are terrible to stand for, therefore people smoke and find the lamest excuses to justify it. Usually, we hear "I really fancy smoking", "Dude, it is just so relaxing", "I can't understand why you don't smoke", "It makes me really calm", "After this lecture I really deserve it"... No, the nicotine is what you are missing, the substance causing you stress and anxiety makes you even more nervous and stressed out and anxious, that is why you feel like calm and go all Ghandi on non-smokers who usually complaint about your smell, about your dirtiness, about you being a lame excuse for an addict.

But I must not deny the power of a social habit, and how comforting a social habit can be, representing a moment where you basically enjoy yourself, the company of those you like being with, the end of a working day asking for a moment of honest peace - we cannot all go out and look at some random bird and feel like it was awesome-, some people just want to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine. Others just want to play some video game and shoot some bloody freakin' zombies in the head. Others like me, most of the times, read about football and watch football and discuss football and want to know everything football as to offer, just because we are post-work-mortem-retards. It does not make much sense, but when you come from work you're dead, you can't think any more, you want something straightforward to bring you back to your basic levels of sociability. For some a glass of wine/beer/any drink does it, for some others that cigarette a day (one will not cause that much damage but can you stick to one?), so what can you find that will help you contemplate that messed up garden you've been trying to put up for your wife? What can help you get forces to fight the dinner making demands and all the other things you have to do at home right after work. The answer is 

A Guilty Pleasure

And that is what I am here to briefly discuss. I found my guilty pleasure, not a daily one, but a weekly one. Actually it is not even happening every week (Friday is the day of choice) since the guy who used to invite me for a Narguile is now in Saudi Arabia for a wedding and such, but twice a month I like to visit his garden, sit down blaming governmental corruption for our economical limitations and just peacefully puff the magic dragon tasting like roses or whatever fruit tobacco they use in it. So I wondered I could just offer you guys a light insight article on the toxicity of Narguile. Because, you know, I'm a Toxicologist... for me there isn't such thing as a bad thing, only inadequate dosages. I am a Pantheistic, Agnostic, Apolitical, Iconoclast human being; I believe that the Universe offered us the chance to taste everything in the right dosage making us aware that sometimes even the smallest ones are going to kill you and you will comically kick the bucket. For that reason I naturally chose a guilty pleasure my organism can cope with. Call it Narguile, Sheesha (this is actually a sugared mixture of treacle, honey and the flavoured light tobacco), Hooka, Water-Pipe,  all we need to be aware of is what are the safety procedures, the safety dosages and how to handle our craving.

Narguile used to be very popular only amongst the Otoman Empire [1] and some say it started simply as a primitive coconut shell in India [2], where smoke washed by water helped people to deal with their stressful lives. Permitted to and used by both genders, as there is no discrimination between men and women in what concerns smoking the Hookah, it spread to every corner in the world. Composed of on average 9 different parts that when put together perfectly promote real enjoyable social relaxing moments:

"The main body of the hookah is made of a pipe that runs from the top, where the clay bowl attaches, all the way to the glass base. Surrounding the pipe is hand worked decorative metal. There is a port for inserting a hose, and on the other side, there is a one way bleeder valve. Each port has a passage into the glass base. There are hookahs made that have multiple hose junctions, and come in 2, 3, 4 and 6 hose versions. When you smoke a hookah, the tobacco is placed into the clay bowl on the top, and is heated with a coal. The coal does not actually burn the tobacco, as is the case with a pipe, or a cigarette, it dries and evaporates the shisha tobacco for a smoother, milder smoke. By drawing on the hose, the air pressure inside the glass base is lowered and thus, air is pulled in from the only available source, the top of the pipe. The air flow heats the coal, which heats the shisha tobacco, pulling the smoke down a tube into the water contained in the base. The smoke passing through the water, is filtered, and cools, smoothing out the smoke before it enters the glass base where it is then rushed through the hose to the smoker. The bleeder valve acts as a one way passage for air, and is used to blow the smoke that collects in the glass base out of the hookah. The reason for doing this, is usually the result of smoke that is too thick, stale, or it's just time to change the tobacco to a different flavor. Always clear the base of smoke if the tobacco is starting to burn or become harsh."
Source: [2]

I am not going through the Hookah care and handling notions, as any other guilty pleasure it shouldn't be done too regularly and definitely needs some taking care of; it is smoke coming straight into your lungs, anyway! But I feel the responsibility to bring you here a brief notion on the toxicity levels of a Hookah:

"Hookah smoke contains 802mg of tar, compared to 22.3mg for cigarettes. Hookah smoke also contains 145mg of carbon monoxide compared to 17.3mg for cigarettes." [3]

So you can assume that for you to keep it a little "safer" than cigarettes you should definitely invite some people, preferably healthy volunteers to join you in a social recall of your most need peace! And tell each of them to bring his own plastic rubber suckling. But if this information makes you feel a little uneasy still, let me offer you the whole picture then...

Why not read the words of a specialist, for example, Richard D. Hurt, MD (Director of the Nicotine Dependence Centre - Mayo Clinic):

"Hookah smoking is not safer than cigarette smoking.The tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe, and the water in the hookah does not filter out the toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke. Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers do because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session...

While research about hookah smoking is still emerging, evidence shows that it poses many dangers:
  • Hookah smoke contains high levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens). In fact, hookah smokers are exposed to more carbon monoxide and smoke than are cigarette smokers.
  • As with cigarette smoking, hookah smoking is linked to lung and oral cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
  • Hookah smoking delivers about the same amount of nicotine as cigarette smoking does, possibly leading to tobacco dependence.
  • Hookah smoke poses dangers associated with secondhand smoke.
  • Hookah smoking by pregnant women can result in low birth weight babies.
  • Hookah pipes used in hookah bars and cafes may not be cleaned properly, risking the spread of infectious diseases."

Source: [4]

I understand that this post was quite short this time, I have been overwhelmed by a large number of things to do, which is always better than doing nothing in my opinion. But I promise you 3 very interesting articles to come soon(ish): 1) An opinion on the PTI Regulatory Affairs course I am taking, 2) A new interview to be added to the profile tag, and 3) A CAKE! 

See you soon guys!

[2] Tinder Box International, The Hookah, its history, manufacture and enjoyment,, last visited on the 15th of August 2011, last update in 2011 

[3]  Shihadeh, A., Saleh, R. (2005). "Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Carbon Monoxide, “Tar”, and Nicotine in the Mainstream Smoke Aerosal of the Narghile Water Pipe". Food and Chemical Toxicology, pp. 1-7.

[4] Mayo Clinic - Quit Smoking,, last visited on the 15th of August 2011, last update on the 02nd of August 2011.

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