Shea Michaels enjoys an infusion of Gator spirit when he lights up.
The 32-year-old disc jockey and frequent hookah smoker favors a mellow hookah mix called Orange and Blue, which is a soothing combination of the blue mist and tangerine dream flavors.
But a flavor he can’t taste may pack the biggest punch.
According to a recent UF study, customers who came from hookah lounges had carbon monoxide levels that were more than three times higher than those who came from traditional bars.
Carbon monoxide can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. It reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can lead to dizziness, vomiting or fainting in the short term and heart disease in the long term.
Tracey Barnett, an assistant professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, lead the study, which measured the carbon monoxide levels of 173 hookah cafe patrons and 198 patrons of traditional bars that allow smoking.
While studies have been conducted on hookah use and carbon monoxide levels in the past, this was the first study to measure levels directly after exposure in a bar setting as opposed to in a lab.
“It’s different when there’s music, the lights are low and there’s potentially drinking,” Barnett said. “It’s a much better snapshot of what happens on a Friday or Saturday night.”
Data was collected in 2009 with a breath carbon monoxide tester as patrons exited local bars. The non-hookah bar customers had an average carbon monoxide level of 8.9 parts per million. The average CO level of hookah patrons was 30.8 ppm.
Gainesville has several venues that offer hookah, including Sharab Lounge, Farah’s on the Avenue and Kava Bar and Hookah Hut. Both are establishments Michaels has smoked hookah at before.
As opposed to when he’s smoking at home, he said when he goes to a lounge he smokes more because of the social aspect of being out.
“It’s doesn’t give me the same long-term effects as drinking,” he said. “If you party hard the night before, you feel it in the morning.
“[With hookah,] I don’t have that same crummy feeling the next day.”
Michaels said when he does drink, he also smokes more.
Barnett said there haven’t been any studies looking at hookah and alcohol together, but she thinks that there is an effect there.
The study did find that even those who didn’t smoke while in the hookah lounge had an average carbon monoxide level of 11.5 ppm, an amount comparable to that of a cigarette smoker.
Suzanne Sprinkles, a UF senior and server at Farah’s, said she hasn’t noticed a difference in how she feels from being around the hookah.
“It doesn’t make me feel weird or get tired or feel sick or anything,” she said. “I’ve been in a car with people smoking cigarettes and that does make me nauseous.”
Jared Glosser, a UF history freshman, has been smoking hookah for four years and said he hasn’t noticed a difference in his health.
“It’s a part of my culture,” he said. “That’s like if I were Southern and you were asking if I would stop eating chicken fried streak because of its health risks.”