A hookah is a water pipe that originated in India. Its use was widely spread by British Colonization and now it is a popular smoking tool throughout the world. Smokers are drawn to hookahs not only for the smooth smoke it produces, but also for their aesthetic value. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are usually (but not always) made with a combination of glass and metal.

The design of a hookah allows for multiple hoses to lead to a single filtration chamber; this simplifies use by groups. (Too many hoses, however, reduces suction, and smokers may have to cover their mouthpiece while not in use.) Multi-hose hookahs are particularly popular in the Western world, where hookah smoking is a social phenomenon. They are not as common in Asia and Africa.

In Arab society, social smoking is done with a single hose: when the smoker is finished, either the hose is placed back on the table signifying that it is free, or it is handed from one user to the next, folded back on itself so that the mouthpiece does not point at the person receiving it. The receiver taps or slaps the giver on the back of the hand while taking it. In cafes or restaurants, however, it is common for each smoker to order an individual hookah.

Hookahs are traditionally ornately decorated. They have a very distinctive appearance, and bear similarities to the ritual use of the American Indian peace pipe.

Relative to other methods of smoking tobacco, hookah smoke is considered smoother and more flavorful. The quantity of smoke inhaled at one time is also much greater. Shisha smoking is generally believed to be less damaging to health than cigarettes. Research has shown that since the tobacco is being heated (as opposed to burn); fewer carcinogens are produced in the smoke. In addition, addiction happens significantly less frequently with hookahs — though this may be due to cultural factors, as well as the time it takes to set up a hookah.

Quick lighting charcoal, (of unknown composition), might be the biggest hazard for hookah users because it would produce more carbon monoxide and other dangerous substances than the natural one. Try to refrain from smoking hookah to stop using dangerous “self-lighting” charcoal and use natural charcoal and braziers in the traditional way, as Persians, Indians, Turks, and Arabs have been doing for centuries.

Hookah smoking has recently become popular in the United States among people not of Middle Eastern origin, especially in the college and university setting, particularly as an alternative to cigarettes or cigars. The idea of hookah less as a tobacco habit and more as a community activity often affords it a wider appeal than cigarettes or cigars.

Hookahs have three main parts, the base, the bowl and the hoses. The base is usually glass, and it is here that the water is held. The water is used as a filtration system to cut down on ashes and other contaminates, and also to cool down the smoke before it reaches the smokers lungs. This ensures a much smoother smoke. It should be noted that the water can be substituted with juices, wine, and other liquids to vary the flavor of the smoke.

The bowl is usually made of clay. Tobacco is placed into the tray, and a screen or sheet of foil with small holes, is placed over the bowl. The tobacco is heated by placing a hot coal on top of the screen. Hookahs use indirect heat, thus essentially vaporizing, not actually burning, the tobacco, enhancing the flavor. The bowl attaches to a stem, which, in turn, fits into the base. Most hookahs have a rubber seal where the base and stem attach together. This helps to eliminate air leaks. The hoses are what most people think of when they hear the word hookah. These can vary in length and number, and are often ornately decorated. They can be made of plastic tubing or cardboard. When purchasing a hookah, one should take into consideration that over time, with use and cleaning, cardboard hoses will need to be replaced at a much faster rate than plastic tubing.

The water in the base should be changed often. If it is not the quality of the smoke will suffer. This is even more important if you are using a substitute liquid. The water will begin to smell, and this smell will permeate the flavor of the smoke. Less often, but still on a regular basis, the entire hookah should be cleaned. Rinsing the pieces off with warm soapy water usually accomplishes this, but there are cleaning solutions available if it hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Do not use ordinary household cleaners on your hookah. Not only can some chemicals damage it, but it also poses a health risk if not completely rinsed out.

Always place your hookah on the floor when smoking. A hookah that is accidentally knocked off of a table can send hot coals flying. There is also a risk of damage to the hookah itself. Clay bowls can break easily. Hookahs offer the user a smooth, relaxing smoking experience, as well as a wonderful conversation piece. There is nothing quite so relaxing as sharing a smoke with good friends, and admiring a well made and artistic hookah.