As I aimlessly ambled the streets of Isla Vista, stumbling into apartment after apartment, hoping to find a place to live last year, I noticed one thing: Every single home had a hookah. And I’m not exaggerating. I couldn’t give you a solid number, but I walked through enough places that I lost count after 13. It’s like if you’ve ever tried to keep track of how many shots you’ve taken by making marks with a sharpie on your arm. The next morning you always notice that around 12, the X’s begin to get really blurry and run into one another. What I’m getting at is that I don’t remember how many places I walked through, but it was a lot and they all had hookahs in them, which at the time shocked me. Now a year later, I’ve come to realize just how popular these smoking devices, or water pipes as they’re formally called, have become.

What fascinates me most about hookahs, besides their incredible popularity among college students around the nation, is their health risk. I’ve never understood how inhaling such large amounts of thick smoke could not be bad for you, even if it’s filtered through water. And yet, for years I’ve had friends and met others who are convinced hookahs can do no harm. I understand that that my assumptions alone are not going to persuade anyone, so I dug up some more reliable information from the American Cancer Society. After following 15,000 pipe smokers for 18 years, the results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2004.

Apparently my assumptions were correct, which is reassuring, because the last time I assumed something I got slapped in the face. The results showed that water pipe smoking led to a higher risk of lung, throat and colon cancer, all of which kill thousands yearly. More importantly, hookah smokers have just as much of a risk of developing cancer and tobacco-related diseases as those who smoke cigarettes.

Now I know that it’s ridiculously naive of me to think no one knows the dangers of hookahs. Which brings me to a big question: Assuming the majority of smokers know that hookahs pose some sort of danger to their health, why do they still do it? Just like most things in life, I think it comes down to feeling and being cool. Smoking hookah in college is a social thing, where people come together, eat, play a game of “would you rather?” and waste away for an hour. The smoke itself, which is flavored and tasty, also relaxes you, which is a big draw. Plus, being able to show off that huge O you can blow, wrongfully thinking you’re doing no harm to your lungs, is a great feeling. Hell, I think it’s fun, but after learning that hookah smoke contains 100 times the amount of lead that’s found in a cigarette, I’ve found it harder to join in. This is the same lead that kills babies and morons every year who chew on their window frames.

Still, when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if students even care. For if you break them down into three groups, which is how I see things, you get interesting results. The first group consists of the hedonists who think they’re invincible. I laud these guys for only seeing the good in life and not worrying about petty things like cancer. Then there are the nihilists and doomsayers who, having no moral distinctions like that, see no problem inhaling toxic crap into their lungs. The third group consists of all the rest, lumped together. Tipper Gore fits in nicely here. With the world going to shits around here, all she can think about is censoring music and video games. I don’t have much to say about her or the rest of them because they’re mostly twats. Writing this has left me very confused and unsure of things. I do know that the next time someone tries to tell me hookah is safe, I’m going to kick him. Unless, of course, he can teach me how to blow a sailboat.