The origins of the hookah come from the north western provinces of India along the border of Pakistan in Rajasthan and Gujarat nearly a millennium back. These hookahs were simple, primitive, and rugged in design, usually made from a coconut shell base and tube with a head attached. They were designed to smoke opium and hashish. The hookah made its way through the Persian Kingdom which also included Pakistan, Afghanistan, much of Middle Asia and Arab parts of Northern Africa. The hookah acquired tombeik on its way through Persia. Tombeik is a dark tobacco grown in modern day Iran. Tombeik is rinsed and packed in the large older style heads where hot coal is applied directly to the wet tombeik, which gives it a strong flavor. These heads and style of hookah, referred to as “ghelune” in Persian. The hookahs designed in the Persian Empire are still hand crafted with each one being cut from a piece of wood. In the 19th century, cigarettes were made easily available and mostly women smoked the ghelune because they were not on the go. Women used the ghelune in the home for entertaining and as a past time.
When the hookah made its way into Turkey about 500 years ago, it endured a surge of popularity among the upper class and intellectuals and thus changing in design. The hookah grew in size and complexity and became similar to designs that we are more familiar with today. Brass and glass were added to the design and less wood was used. Intricate paintings and mosaics were added for beauty and elegance. The popularity grew into hookah coffee shops in Turk society two to three centuries ago. A hookah bar waiter was treated similar to a chef because of the preparation for hookah smoking. The packing and moisture was a skill, and it was considered rude to touch the coals. Hookah smoking migrated south into the Arab world from Turkey to Lebanon and Syria where it got the name argile. It then spread into Egypt and Morocco where it is known as shisha. It is also known as the hubble bubble in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Today, hookah bars are social places where many people get together to discuss politics and local events. In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia the hookah bars are for men only.
Most hookah smoking countries serve Naklia shisha. Naklia shisha is a combination of foreign tobaccos, honey molasses and dried fruit. The smoke is filtered through ice cold water to make the smoke cool and soothing. Older generations smoked hashish and opium, which has created a negative stigma for the hookah that is smoked today. Slowly society is accepting the hookah as more of a pipe for tobacco instead of illegal drugs. The hookah has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe since the experimentation of the 60’s. Smoking hookah can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers. The cooled and sweetened flavor of hookah tobacco makes it more enticing to kids and they falsely believe it’s less harmful. Ongoing use can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or other diseases, including but not limited to tuberculosis, respiratory illnesses and long-term use can lead to heart disease and many cancers. Though the water-pipe device with its series of tubes and mouthpieces looks nothing like a cigarette, it is almost always used to smoke tobacco, and as such carries many of the dangers inherent in cigarette smoking. According to the World Health Organization, one hookah session typically lasts 20 to 80 minutes and a hookah user may inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would from smoking 100 or more cigarettes.