Smoking hookah, also known as hubbly, often carries a relaxed, “cool” social image. But the reality behind the sweet-smelling smoke hides a multitude of health dangers. It has been described as a silent killer that strikes many of its victims without any signs of poor health.

By Candice Khumalo

Penelope Sefanyetso from Rustenburg in the North West spent a whole month in the hospital because of smoking hookah. She says she couldn’t breathe and was dependent on an oxygen machine because her chest was full of smoke.

“I used to smoke hubbly for fun and started experiencing health complications after years of smoking it, even though it was a once-in-a-while thing. I was in and out of the hospital for the whole month.

“On one unfortunate day, just after having a session, I experienced a very terrible headache. I collapsed, and I was rushed to the hospital and admitted.

“They did an X-ray, which came out showing my lungs covered with carbon dioxide. At that time, I was dependent on ventilators as I couldn’t breathe on my own. My lungs felt like they were burning. When I got discharged, I started using an asthma pump because I was struggling to breathe,” explained Sefanyetso.

After realising how it can put one’s life at risk, Sefanyetso says that experience made her quit it instantly.

Now, looking back, she’s grateful that she could quit.

“I’ve quit smoking hubbly without any regrets because, looking back and seeing myself in that situation, I realised that this hubbly thing can take your life within a blink of an eye, and if not so, it puts your health at risk.”

‘I thought it was better than smoking a cigarette.’

Smoking hubbly seemed like a better alternative for Siya Mdletshe from Empangeni in Kwazulu-Natal, as he opted for it believing it was better than cigarettes. However, he says it triggered health concerns that led him to quit.

“I started smoking hubbly because of my peers, and I thought it was harmless and better than cigarettes. It almost killed me when it triggered tuberculosis (TB), and it made me realise that yes, it may smell nice because of its flavours, but it’s dangerous.”

While often seen as a social and enjoyable activity, Dr Siphesihle Mgoduka from the Eastern Cape explains that it carries significant health risks that are often underestimated.

“It is estimated that a one-hour session of smoking hubbly is equivalent to 200 cigarettes; that alone means you are at an increased risk of developing oral, lung, or bladder cancer and many other associated diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), stroke, heart disease, and even diabetes.”

Sharing is not caring.

Mgoduka adds that the sharing of pipes is associated with an increased risk of oral conditions like herpes simplex (herpes libialis), syphilis, and TB.

“From what we have seen in the townships, for example, where I have worked, oral cancer, lung cancer, and infertility are the most common health risks associated with smoking hubbly.”

“People will come back demanding help, even though there is little to do by the time they come to us. The dangers seem like lies to them; quitting smoking goes a long way, even though it’s not easy, but it’s good for one’s health,” explained Dr Mgoduka.

As hubbly contains smoke from the tobacco as well as smoke from the heat source (e.g., charcoal) used in the hookah, Dr Mgoduka warns that second-hand smokers or passive smokers are at the same risk as the main-smoker. Non-smokers should, therefore, avoid such areas where people are smoking.

“To those who haven’t started, they shouldn’t start, as it’s hard to stop once you start. We need strict regulations towards it, especially in clubs and taverns. Designated smoking places should be available for such.” –

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