AskDefine | Define hookah

Dictionary Definition

hookah n : an oriental tobacco pipe with a long flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water; "a bipolar world with the hookah and Turkish coffee versus hamburgers and Coca Cola" [syn: narghile, nargileh, sheesha, shisha, chicha, calean, kalian, water pipe, hubble-bubble, hubbly-bubbly]

User Contributed Dictionary



Urdu < Arabic (ħúqqa), meaning pot, jar < (ħuqq), cavity, hollow.


  1. a pipe with a long flexible tube that draws the smoke through water. Traditionally used for smoking tobacco, which is often flavored.



  • 1831 — The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction
    In India, the lower orders use a hookah or hubble bubble, which is made of a cocoa-nut shell well cleaned out, having a hole through the soft eye of the shell, and another on the opposite side, a little lower down, the first of which is used for the chauffoir, and the other to suck or draw the smoke from.
  • 1960 — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird'', ch 9
    When Uncle Jack caught me, he kept me laughing about a preacher who hated going to church so much that every day he stood at his gate in his dressing-gown, smoking a hookah and delivering five-minute sermons to any passers-by who desired spiritual comfort.

Extensive Definition

Hookah (, , transliteration: ḥuqqa), shisha or arghileh (), nargilah (, Turkish: nargile) or ghelyan (Persian: قلیان) is a single or multi-stemmed (often glass-based) water pipe for smoking. Originally from India, it has gained popularity, especially in the Arab World, particularly under the Ottoman Empire. A hookah operates by water filtration and indirect heat. It can be used for smoking herbal fruits.
Depending on locality and supply, hookahs may be referred to by many names, often of Arabic, Indian, Turkic, Uzbek, or Persian origin. Nargila is the name most commonly used in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Turkey, Armenia,Bulgaria and Romania, although the initial "n" is often dropped in Arabic pronunciation. Narghile derives from the Persian word nārgil (نارجل), meaning coconut, and in turn from the Sanskrit nārikela (नारिकेला), suggesting that early hookahs were hewn from coconut shells.
Shisha (Arabic: شيشة), from the Persian word shīshe (شیشه), meaning glass, is the common term for the hookah in Egypt, the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf (including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia), and in Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia and Yemen.
In Iran, hookah is called ghalyūn (غلیون), ghālyūn (قالیون), or ghalyān (قلیان), and in India and Pakistan the name most similar to the English hookah is used: huqqa (हुक्का /حقہ). The more colloquial terms "hubble-bubble" and "hubbly-bubbly" are used by Red Sea tourists.
The commonness of the Indian word "hookah" in English is a result of the British Raj, the British dominion of India (1858-1947), when large numbers of expatriate Britons first sampled the water-pipe. William Hickey, shortly after arriving in Kolkata, India, in 1775, wrote in his Memoirs:


Middle East

Arab world

In the Arab world, social smoking is done with a single or double hose, and sometimes even more numerous. When the smoker is finished, either the hose is placed back on the table signifying that it is available, or it is handed from one user to the next, folded back on itself so that the mouthpiece is not pointing at the recipient. Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, Shah of Persia (1848-1896) is reputed to have considered a hookah mouthpiece pointed at him an insult. Another tradition is that the recipient taps or slaps the previous smoker on the back of the hand while taking it, as a sign of respect or friendship.
In cafés and restaurants, however, it is rare for each smoker not to order an individual hookah, as the price is generally low, ranging from USD 2 to USD 10.
Most cafés (Arabic: مقهى, transliteration: maqha, translation: coffeeshop) in the Middle East offer hookahs. Cafés are widespread and are amongst the chief social gathering places in the Arab world (akin to public houses have in Britain). Some expatriate Britons arriving in the Middle East adopt shisha cafés to make up for the lack of pubs in the region, especially where prohibition is in place.


In Iran, the hookah is known as a ghalyun (, also spelled ghalyan, ghalyaan or ghelyoon). It is similar in many ways to the Arabic hookah but has its own unique attributes. An example is the top part of the ghalyoun called 'sar' (Persian: سر=head), where the tobacco is placed, is bigger than the ones seen in Turkey. Also the major part of the hose is flexible and covered with soft silk or cloth while the Turkish make the wooden part as big as the flexible part.
There are mouthpieces called 'Amjid' (امجید) that each person has his own personal one, usually made of wood or metal and decorated with valuable or other stones. Amjids are only used for their fancy look. However, all the Hookah Bars have plastic mouth-pieces.
Use of water pipes in Iran can be traced back to the Qajar period. In those days the hoses were made of sugar cane. Persians had a special tobacco called Khansar (خانسار, presumably name of the origin city). The charcoals would be put on the Khansar without foil. Khansar has less smoke than the normal tobacco.
The smoking of hookah is very popular with the young people in Iran, if you go to a local coffee shop you will most probably see a large amount of young people smoking hookahs.
The hookah was, until recently, served to all ages; Iranian officials have since passed a law forbidding its use by those under 20 .


In Turkey, hookah is smoked on a social basis, usually in one's home with guests or in a cafe with friends. Most cities have hookah cafes where hookah is offered with a non-alcoholic drink (mainly tea). This is mostly for health reasons rather than cultural reasons. Often people will smoke hookah after dinner as a replacement for cigarettes. In bigger cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Adana, restaurants may have dinner & hookah specials which include meal, beverage (alcoholic/non-alcoholic), Turkish coffee, and hookah.
Once the centre of Istanbul’s social and political life, the hookah is considered one of life’s great pleasures by the locals today. In certain parts of the country, people use hookah cafes to watch popular TV shows, national sports games, etc. and smoke hookah to socialize.


Smoking hookah is a not only a tradition, but culture. In Israel, the hookah is prevalent among Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Yemen (collectively known as Mizrahi Jews). Hookah use is also common in the Arab home where families will commonly smoke after a large meal or at a family gathering. Hookahs are becoming increasingly popular within Israel particularly among tourists. Shops selling paraphernalia can be found on most high streets and markets. Most nightclubs also have hookahs. In 2005, due to an increase in use among youth, a campaign was launched by The Israel Cancer Association warning against the hazards of hookah smoking, and the IDF has forbidden the use of hookahs by soldiers within its bases.

South Asia


In Afganistan, hookah has been popular, especially in Kabul, for some time. In Afghanistan, it is better known as "chillam".
In America, Many Afghans own their own hookah set at home but do not smoke publicly. It has been a long tradition to Afghans to smoke all together with family and friends on special occasions.


In India, where it originated, the hookah is becoming better known, and cafés and restaurants that offer it as a consumable are popular. The use of hookahs from ancient times in India was not only a custom, but a matter of prestige. Rich and landed classes would smoke hookahs. Tobacco is smoked in hookahs in many villages as per traditional customs. Smoking molasses in a hookah is now becoming popular amongst the youth in India. It is a growing trend amongst youngsters and adolescents. There are several chain clubs, bars and coffee shops (such as Mocha) in India offering a variety of hookahs. The new trends emerging are that of non-tobacco hookahs with herbal flavours. Several modern restaurants are famous for this.


In Pakistan, although traditionally prevalent in rural areas for generations, hookahs have become very popular in the cosmopolitan cities. Many clubs and cafes are offering them and it has become quite popular amongst the youth and students in Pakistan. This form of smoking has become very popular for social gatherings, functions, and events. There are a large number of cafes and restaurants offering a variety of hookahs.

Southeast Asia


With the increase of the Persian and the Arab community, Malaysia too has seen an increase in hookah use and cafes ofering hookah more commonly known as shisha.


In the Philippines, the popularity is vastly growing, in the capital's most cosmopolitan city, Makati; various high-end bars and clubs offer hookahs to patrons.
Although hookah use has been common for hundreds of years and enjoyed by people of all ages, it has just begun to become a youth-oriented pastime in Asia in recent times. Hookahs are most popular with college students and teenagers, who may be underage and thus unable to purchase cigarettes.

South Africa

In South Africa, hookah, colloquially known as a hubbly bubbly, is popular amongst the Cape Malay, Indian population, where it is smoked as a social pastime. However, hookah is seeing increasing popularity with white South Africans, especially the youth. Hookah bars are relatively uncommon, and smoking is normally done at home or in public spaces such as beaches and picnic sites.
In South Africa, the terminology of the various hookah components also differ from other countries. The clay "head/bowl" is known as a "clay pot". The hoses are called "pipes" and the air release valve is known, strangely, as a "clutch".
Some scientists point to the dagga pipe as an African origin of hookah


In Spain, the use of the hookah has recently increased in popularity. They are usually readily available to smoke at prices between 5-10€ at tea-oriented coffeehouses, called teterías in Spanish, which are often run by Arab immigrants or have some other sort of affinity with the east. Hookah pipes are usually sold at prices between €10 and €70, and hookah tobacco and charcoal is easily found in those same coffee houses, or at stores run by eastern immigrants. Immigrants and native Spanish alike enjoy this custom, and it is usually seen as a lighter way of smoking than cigarettes. Buying one's own tobacco and hookah can be noticeably less expensive than ordering hookahs at a coffee house.
Hookahs are also becoming increasingly popular in Moscow and other Russian cities. Many bars employ a "hookah man" or "niam" which is commonly pronounced "ni-eem" (, tr. kal'yanshchik), often of middle-eastern appearance and wearing an approximation of Arab or Turkish costume, to bring the pipes to customers' tables and wrappings may be provided to each person at the table for hygiene reasons.
Hookahs are popular in Kyiv as well and other Ukrainian cities.
Hookah smoking has also risen in popularity in Germany, particularly in Berlin and Cologne, where many hookah bars exist due in part to a relatively large Turkish population. Hookahs are also very easy to acquire. During the 2006 World Cup, many booths in the area outside of the Zoologischer Garten Bahnhof specialized in selling the water-pipes and flavored tobacco. In addition, many people create homemade hookahs due to the relative ease of construction and the high cost of a quality pipe. Hooka (locally called Shisha) bars are even commonly found in towns with just 100,000 inhabitants.
In Italy, hookah bars are still not so common, but their number is increasing, as hookah (usually known only as narghilè) smoking is currently gaining favor and seen as less dangerous and irritating for other nearby than cigarettes (yet, it is covered by the no smoke in public locals law if not for dedicated places or rooms). There used to be a ban by the Italian government on wet and fruit flavoured tobacco, but this ban has been abolished since the production of tobacco in Italy is not limited anymore to the Monopolio di Stato. Italy is now, in fact, a producer itself of high quality hooka tobacco.. It is legal in Switzerland.
In Sweden, as well as Norway, hookah smoking is on the rise. Cheap hookahs and hookah-related products, like tobacco and charcoal, are now available in the many kiosk-like businesses run by immigrants, mostly of middle-eastern origin, found in the larger cities. Hookahs are mostly used by teenagers and immigrants, but the use is slowly becoming more widespread. Hookah bars and similar establishments are still very rare though, in part due to anti-smoking laws which forbids smoking in restaurants and in public buildings.
In the Czech Republic, hookah is relatively common in many tearooms (usually cost between 100 and 150 CZK). Hookahs are usually sold in specialized orient-shops and tearooms at prices mostly between 500 and 2500 CZK. Local names for hookah are "šíša", "vodnice", "voďár", "vodní dýmka", etc.
In Lithuania (named "kaljanas") it's popular between young and middle age people. There are some special bars where you could smoke it or usually people own hookah at home. It cost's from 30-200 euros. It's very common gift for friends.
Hookah ('vesipiip' in Estonian, 'vizipipa' in Hungarian) has also gained major popularity in Estonia and Hungary amongst teenagers, where it has caused controversy amongst the troubled parents.

United Kingdom

In England, as of 2007, Hookah cafes (sometimes known locally as "Shisha Bars") exist in most major cities. London's Edgware Road area is noted for a high distribution of shops which serve hookah, but there is at least one hookah place to be found in most cities in the south, including Canterbury, Portsmouth, Bristol, Salisbury, Exeter, and Plymouth. Until July of 2007, hookahs could be smoked inside any public place. But after smoking was banned inside public places by the government, hookahs are only allowed to be smoked outside. There are, however, a few exceptions to this. If the building has three areas of ventilation, such as two walls with windows and a roof with a skylight that can be opened, then it can be smoked inside. Because England has a somewhat rainy and cool climate, this can present a challenge to outdoor hookah smoking sessions.
Hookah is often found in Indian restaurants but is most commonly found in Lebanese restaurants and Egyptian-run "hubbly-bubbly" bars. Concentrations of these hookah establishments are often found in close proximity to University campuses, as on Rusholme's Curry Mile in Manchester or in Oxford, and they cater to a mixture of British and Middle-Eastern clientel amongst students. A ban on public smoking was enacted in Scotland in 2006, and a similar ban has taken effect in England on July 1st 2007. Hookah bars have since been closed, as there is a complete ban of smoking in enclosed public areas; however, some businesses have remained open, functioning as normal cafés....

United States and Canada

Excluding grommets, a hookah is usually made of five components, four of which are essential for its operation.

The bowl

Also known as the head of the hookah, the bowl is a container, usually made out of clay or marble, that holds the tobacco (or other herbs) and coal during the smoking session. It is loaded with tobacco (or other herbs) then covered in a small piece of perforated tin foil or a metal screen. Then lit coals are then placed on top, which allows the tobacco to heat to the proper temperature.


The hose is a slender tube that allows the smoke to be drawn. The end is typically fitted with a metal, wooden, or plastic mouthpiece.

Body, Gasket, Valve

The body of the hookah is a hollow tube with a gasket at its bottom. The gasket itself has at least one opening for the hose. The gasket seals the connection of the body of the hookah with the water jar. The gasket may have one more opening with a valve in it for clearing the smoke from the water jar not via the hose. In some cases the gasket may contain openings for more than one hose.

Water jar

Placed at the bottom of the hookah, the water jar is a container through which the smoke from the tobacco passes before it reaches the hose. By passing through water, the smoke gains moisture and is lowered in temperature. This makes inhaling the smoke of the hookah easier than that of a cigarette. Also the water jar allegedly functions as a filter for the smoke. The level of the water has to be higher than the lowest point of the body's tube in order for the smoke to pass through it. Liquids other than water may be added, such as a strong mixture of alcohol,spirit and/or fruit juice.

The plate

The plate is usually just below the bowl and is used for "dead" coals from previous smoking sessions.


Grommets in a hookah are usually placed between the bowl and the body, the body's gasket and the water jar and between the body and the hose. The reason for the usage of grommets although not essential (the usage of paper or tape has become common) will help to seal the joints between the parts, therefore decreasing the amount of air coming in and maximizing the smoke breathed in.


The jar at the bottom of the hookah is filled with water sufficient to submerge a few centimeters of the body tube, which is sealed tightly to it. Tobacco (or other herbs) is placed inside the bowl at the top of the hookah and a burning charcoal is placed on top of the tobacco (or other herbs). Some cultures cover the bowl with perforated tin foil to separate the coal and the tobacco (or other herbs), which minimizes inhalation of coal ash with the smoke.
When one inhales via the hose, air is pulled through the coal and into the bowl. The air, hot from the charcoal, roasts, not burns, the tobacco (or other herbs), producing smoke. This smoke passes down through the body tube, which extends into the water in the jar. It bubbles up through the water and fills the top part of the jar, to which the hose is attached. When a smoker inhales from the hose, smoke passes into the lungs, and the change in pressure in the jar pulls more air through the charcoal, continuing the process.
The hookah's components must be sealed tightly with grommets, or air which does not flow through the coal will dilute the smoke.



Tobamel A sweet substance smoked in a hookah pipe, usually containing tobacco. Tobamel is legal in Canada,United States and in Europe.


Ma'sal, معسل, Arabic for, literally, honeyed, is the name the "shisha tobacco" is labeled as by the Arabic producers like Egyptian based Nakhla Tobacco.


Tumbâk is word of Turkish origin and refers simply to tobacco, not necessarily flavored or sweetened. The Persian word tumbeki and the Hindi/Urdu word Tumbako are similar.


Jurâk, mainly of Indian origin, might be considered as an intermediate substance between traditional sweetened tobaccos and the fruity hookah of modern times. The term applies both to a tobacco mixture that includes fruits or aromatic oils as well as tobacco that is just sweetened.


Molasses tobacco is sold in a variety of flavours. Some of the flavours in which it is available are derived from the addition of artificial flavourings; other manufacturers shun these. A few of the flavours are based upon the scent of flowers. Flavours include vanilla, coconut, rose, jasmine, honey, strawberry, watermelon, mint, cherry, orange, raspberry,apple, apricot, chocolate, licorice, coffee, grape, peach, cola, bubblegum, etc.


Research has shown that hookah sessions are more threatening to a person's health than smoking cigarettes . Each hookah session typically lasts from 20 - 80 minutes and consists of 50 - 200 puffs which range from 0.15 - 1 litre per puff . This exposes the hookah smoker to considerably more smoke over a longer time period compared with a cigarette which ranges from 0.5 - 0.6 liters per cigarette. While the water absorbs some of the nicotine in the tobacco smoke, the smoker can be exposed to enough nicotine to cause addiction
. Furthermore, the water moisture induced by the hookah makes the smoke less irritating and may give a false sense of security and reduce concerns about true health effects .
Other research shows that a 45 minute session of hookah tobacco smoking (tobacco molasses) delivers slightly more tar and carbon monoxide (around 5-10%) than a pack of cigarettes. This study has, however, come under criticism for using unrealistically high temperatures for the tobacco (600-650 degrees C) and using arbitrary figures for tar filtration rates. This could possibly have skewed results, as the carcinogenic and toxin levels of smoke increases dramatically with temperature (Wynder 1958). Common practice is to keep temperatures to degrees which do not "char" the hookah; that is within a temperature range of 100-150 C. (Chaouachi K: Patologie associate all'uso del narghile). The effects of these lower temperatures on tar are inconclusive, though Chaouachi indicates the tar would be less harmful.
Some hookah tobaccos claim to contain 0.0% Tar, but this is misleading due to the fact that tar is made when tobacco burns. However, when smoking a hookah the tobacco is heated rather than burned. More research is needed to determine the exact amount of tar produced in a session before the burning of the tobacco.
The World Health Organization Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation (TobReg) presented an advisory note in 2005 on waterpipe (hookah) tobacco smoking and concluded that "waterpipe smoking is associated with many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking, and may, in fact, involve some unique health risks" and recommends that "waterpipes and waterpipe tobacco should be subjected to the same regulation as cigarettes and other tobacco products." However, Kamal Chaouachi, a French researcher who has been studying hookah usage and effects throughout the world since 1997, has criticized the WHO advisory note in a report and a book.
Some research has suggested that the use of the hookah may have less comparative cancer risks, though such studies are not conclusive (Hoffman, Rakower, Salem 1983 and 90, Gupta Dheeraj 2001, Tandon 1995, Lubin 1992, Hazelton 2001, Stirling 1979). The levels of carbon monoxide produced during a hookah session varies widely depending on the type of coal used. Japanese charcoals are thought to produce lower amounts of carbon monoxide. However there is a notable difference in areas of carbon monoxide absorption, in that while cigarettes have a notable effect on the small respiratory tracts rather, shisha smoking mostly affects the major airways (Bakir 1991, Kiter). This means a lessened FEV vs FEV1/FVC ratio compared to cigarettes, which is believed to be less harmful for the airways long-term though it may lead to general hoarseness.
The level of impact on a smoker's health is linked to the set-up and components of the hookah as well. A hookah only utilizing the basic components listed above is believe to have much harsher health consequences than one set-up properly and with various safety devices installed: Since the tobacco in a hookah is roasted as opposed to burned, the density and temperature of the tobacco is paramount to ensure a safer quality of smoke (Wynder 1958). Distancing somewhat the coal from the tobacco and placing a perforated thermal cover (not to be confused with a wind cover) over the bowl will reduce tar output. Using a Heba diffuser around the down stem in the water basin may provide a slightly greater amount of filtration, however a properly conducted study is needed to validate these claims. The use of a nicotine filter at some stage of the smoke cycle, preferably in the hose, may reduce health risks, but once again a properly conducted study is needed to validate these claims.
Hookahs can also be smoked with tobacco-free herbal flavours. These contain Sugar Cane Bagasse with no tobacco, nicotine or tar. This new method of smoking is aimed at replacing tobacco and thus eliminating its negative health effects. There have been few studies to show the impact of smoking herbal flavours in Shisha pipes.
Many articles suggest that there is simply not enough research to provide answers to determine the effects of hookah smoking. Research is under way by Fogarty International Centre-funded Syrian Centre for Tobacco Studies, Egyptian Smoking Prevention Research Institute, Research for International Tobacco Control-funded Tobacco Prevention and Control Research Group at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.
hookah in Arabic: شيشة
hookah in Bulgarian: Наргиле
hookah in Czech: Vodní dýmka
hookah in Danish: Vandpibe
hookah in German: Shisha
hookah in Modern Greek (1453-): Ναργιλές
hookah in Spanish: Narghile
hookah in Esperanto: Nargileo
hookah in Persian: قلیان
hookah in French: Narguilé
hookah in Hindi: हुक्का
hookah in Icelandic: Vatnsreykjarpípa
hookah in Italian: Narghilè
hookah in Hebrew: נרגילה
hookah in Dutch: Waterpijp
hookah in Japanese: 水タバコ
hookah in Norwegian: Vannpipe
hookah in Norwegian Nynorsk: Vasspipe
hookah in Low German: Schischa
hookah in Polish: Szisza
hookah in Portuguese: Narguilé
hookah in Russian: Кальян
hookah in Slovak: Vodná fajka
hookah in Finnish: Hookah
hookah in Swedish: Vattenpipa
hookah in Thai: ชิชา
hookah in Turkish: Nargile
hookah in Urdu: حقہ
hookah in Yiddish: נארגילע
hookah in Chinese: 水煙

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Missouri meerschaum, briar, briar pipe, calean, calumet, churchwarden, clay, corncob, corncob pipe, hubble-bubble, meerschaum, nargileh, peace pipe, pipe, pipe cleaner, pipe rack, tobacco pipe, tobacco pouch, water pipe
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