A screen grab from video Hookah Pipe Smoke Lab Test on YouTube. Children as young as 9 are being introduced to smoking hookah pipes.
“I started smoking hookah when I was 9 years old,” says Roscoe, now 10.

Hookah pipes, the water-based smoking pipes that people use to inhale flavoured tobacco, have become increasingly popular among young South Africans in recent years.

Roscoe said he had been introduced to the hookah pipe by his 16-year-old cousin.

When asked why he continued to smoke, he said: “Because I like it.”

Roscoe said both his parents were aware of him smoking hookah and had not once asked him to stop.

The last time he smoked was this past week, but the Cape Flats youngster said he wanted to stop the unhealthy habit.

“When I smoke it makes me feel dizzy. I want to stop, but it also makes me feel good.”

According to UWC PhD candidate Zainab Kader, her research has shown that the smoking of hookah pipes by children 10 years and younger is on the increase. Kader said there was a need for intervention, which she was working on.

“Because it is a social practice, which involves a group of friends, it makes it harder to persuade people to quit or change their habits. I believe it will require a specific intervention strategy and at the moment there is nothing in place to discourage the youth from starting up the habit, or encouraging them to quit.”

She suggested most parents saw smoking hookah pipe as harmless, but it could be a “gateway to other substances such as cigarettes, cannabis and alcohol”.

Martina Martin, a substance abuse facilitator at the First Resource Centre in Hanover Park, said the reason a number of children reported feeling dizzy after smoking hookah pipe could be attributed to the possibility that it is being laced with drugs such as dagga and whoonga and they might not be aware of it.

Martin said that most of the time these young children smoked with older children or adults and were unaware that the tobacco could be mixed with other substances.

She said the smoking of hookah pipes had become an acceptable practice in many households on the Cape Flats.

Grant*, 11, who started smoking last year and claimed to have smoked for only three months, said he understood that smoking hookah was not a good thing.

He said he had been introduced to it by his 18-year-old brother.

“I liked smoking it, it had a nice smell. It didn’t make me cough, but it did make me feel dizzy.”

Like Roscoe, Grant said his parents were aware of his smoking, but did nothing to stop him.

Claudia*, 11, said she began smoking hookah pipe this year. Her parents were aware of her smoking and had not intervened.

Her 16-year-old sister introduced her to the habit.

“I do understand that it is not good for my health and I don’t feel good about smoking, but it makes me feel lekker. Also, I only smoke on weekends,” she said.

Enver Williams, 28, said he started smoking at the age of 10 and his parents were also okay with it. In fact, when he asked his parents if he could buy himself a pipe, they had no objections.

“I had my first taste at a birthday party from an older family member.”

Although he had a slow start and only smoked once or twice a month because he didn’t really have the money to buy the tobacco for the hookah pipe, at the age of 13 he started smoking every day.

By the time he turned 15 he was smoking at least three pipes a day and this continued until the age of 23, when he realised it was starting to affect his lungs.

However, he said he had not stopped smoking, but rather reduced the number of pipes he smoked per day.

Wherever he goes he carries his hookah pipe with him.

He said he had no intention of quitting.

He said he did not encourage people to smoke, especially young children.

* Names have been changed to protect the identities of the minors.