As Historic Hookah Legislation Goes Into Effect This Year, Health Department Launches First-Ever Awareness Campaign On the Dangers of Smoking Hookah

More than 1 in 10 middle and high school youth have smoked hookah

One hour of smoking hookah can expose someone to as much
carbon monoxide and tar as smoking 10 cigarettes

May 21, 2018 — The Health Department today announced the launch of its first-ever media campaign educating New Yorkers on the risks of smoking hookah. Just one hour of smoking hookah can expose someone to as much carbon monoxide and tar as smoking 10 cigarettes. Anyone in a room where hookah is being smoked is exposed to toxic chemicals, whether or not they are smoking. In 2016, 11.7 percent of middle and high school students reported having smoked hookah. Notably, certain groups of youth showed significant increases between 2008 and 2016, including Latinos (from 7.1 percent to 17.3 percent), Blacks (from 3.2 percent to 7.1 percent) and middle school students (from 2.9 percent to 5.6 percent).

Recent New York City laws about hookah smoking are going into effect this year. These new laws will require all hookah-serving establishments to get a permit (PDF) and display warning signs about the health risks of hookah smoke. Only establishments that earned half of their gross revenue from the on-site sale of non-tobacco hookah as of October 16, 2017 are eligible for a permit. Permit applications will be accepted through October 22, 2018. As of April 14, retail stores and other establishments are banned from selling or serving shisha to people younger than 21. Starting in October, people younger than 21 will not be permitted to enter hookah-serving establishments. The new laws will also increase the penalties for establishments that serve tobacco-containing shisha, which is already illegal.

“Many people underestimate the health risks of hookah. This media campaign provides the truth about hookah smoke: it’s dangerous and harmful,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “The recent increase in hookah smoking threatens the progress we’ve made here in New York City to reduce tobacco use and prevent thousands of tobacco-related illnesses and deaths.”

“Smoking hookah can be as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, yet many New Yorkers, including our youth, don't associate it with the same health risks,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “It is encouraging that New York City is finally regulating exposure to hookahs and launching a campaign to break down the misconceptions surrounding the impact that it can have on someone’s health.“

“Marketing for tobacco and non-tobacco products target our young people most susceptible to advertising of various flavors and colors. We have made so much progress on the use of cigarettes and now we are facing a similar challenge with hookah. Its prevalent use is putting the health of our city at risk. These laws will help us correct the misconception that hookah is a healthier smoking alternative when, in fact, it is not,“ said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

A hookah, or water pipe, uses burning charcoal to heat shisha, a flavored blend of herbal substances. Tobacco is a popular and common ingredient in shisha, but some shisha is tobacco-free. Shisha is never a healthy alternative to cigarettes, regardless of its tobacco content.

The toxic chemicals associated with hookah smoking come from two sources: the charcoal that is burned to heat the shisha and the shisha itself. Many of the unhealthy chemicals (PDF), such as carbon monoxide, tar and formaldehyde, are also found in cigarette smoke. Water does not effectively filter out these chemicals from hookah smoke. Additionally, when shisha contains tobacco the smoke contains nicotine, which is addictive.

The chemicals in hookah smoke can increase your risk of:

  • Heart attack.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Respiratory symptoms.
  • Cancer.
  • Premature death (for people with heart and lung disease).

For more information on the dangers of hookah, visit



MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Stephanie Buhle, (347) 396-4177