New Delhi: From being a centre-point of village gatherings to gracing plush joints in metros, the hookah has made a comeback in social space. But its return has sparked concern among cancer experts who say Indian youth are getting addicted to the hubble-bubble in the mistaken belief that it is a healthy alternative to cigarettes.
According to the Global Adults Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2009-10, India accounts for over seven million hookah users among a total of 274.9 million tobacco users. While tobacco is the leading cause of cancer deaths in India, experts say hookah smokers are prone to lung cancer, oral cancer, heart diseases and respiratory disorders.
“Over the last two years, hookahs have penetrated urban space and gained enormous popularity among youngsters. Without knowing the harmful effects, youth are addicted to the hookah because of a fashion quotient associated with it,” said Dhirendra N Sinha, regional advisor, Surveillance (Tobacco Control) at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Southeast Asia.
“Making hookah smoking seem fashionable is an innovative approach of the tobacco industry to make the youth population addicted to tobacco,” said Sinha.
Experts attribute the impressive return of the hookah to hookah parlours that have been positioned as ‘hangout zones of the elite’. The Arab-lounge like ambience at such bars — dimly lit corners, reclining couch, soothing music and exotic flavours — have helped the hookah grip metropolitan residents.
“In cities, hookah parlours have become symbols of socio-economic prosperity. They are easily available and being at a hookah parlour looks cool to youngsters and urban rich,” PK Julka, professor of clinical oncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told IANS.
While Karnataka, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have banned hookah parlours under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prevention) Act 2003, Delhi is yet to take any action to curb hookah smoking.