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Hookah vs Vape

January 03, 2024

Smoking shisha tobacco through a hookah pipe is an activity that's been around for hundreds of years, and in certain parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and India, it's a common sight to see groups of friends gathered around a hookah. Vaping, on the other hand, is one of the newest smoking devices - although it's difficult to believe they haven't even been around for twenty years yet. 

There often seems to be some confusion regarding the similarities and differences between hookahs and vapes, so let's take a look at these two methods: one is a time-honoured and slow-paced ritual built around connection, and the other is very much a 21st-century accessory. Let’s get into it!

What Is Hookah?

The hookah pipe we use today was first developed by a Persian physician named Akbar Abul-Fath Gilani in the Indian city of Fatehpur Sikri in the 16th Century. While there had been different versions beforehand, what we know today as a hookah appeared in the sub-continent at a time when glass manufacturing began to take off in India and when society started smoking tobacco.

Hookahs range in sizes and styles, but generally, all follow the same basic layout: a glass bowl at the bottom filled with water and a glass stem reaching upwards to where the smoke is generated. Here, the tobacco, along with charcoal, is burnton a small platform, and when the user inhales, the smoke passes down the stem, through the bowl filled with water, and up through the hose and mouthpiece.

What is Shisha Tobacco?

Hookah pipes typically use shisha tobacco. Unlike the dry tobacco found in cigarettes and cigars, shisha is a wet form that has been soaked in a combination of glycerin, molasses or honey, and flavouring. This process allows for intense flavours of all varieties but also means the tobacco burns much slower than traditional tobacco. With shisha, the tobacco is slowly cooked rather than quickly burnt. 

What Is Vaping?

On the other hand, vaping involves heating e-liquid or vape juice through a heating coil, with the vapour created then passed down through the device to the mouth at the other end. Vaping may still be the new kid on the block, compared to traditional cigarettes and hookahs at least, but there is already a wide selection of vapes available, including e-pens, vape pens, mech mod, e-hookahs, and box mods. 

Vapes themselves are relatively simple devices, but the careful combination of ingredients within e-liquids is really where the magic happens. They usually include four core ingredients:

  1. Propylene Glycol - Propylene glycol or "PG" - An odourless and tasteless alcohol predominately used to piggyback the flavourings in e-liquids. Manufacturers sometimes use it along with vegetable glycerin or use it instead.
  2. Vegetable Glycerin - Vegetable glycerin or "VG" - Made from vegetable oils such as coconut oil or soybean oil; it does a similar job to propylene glycol. However, it has a few differences in that it's a little sweeter and significantly thicker than PG.
  3. Flavouring - E-liquids come in various flavours, from the popular watermelon, cherry, and apple to the more left-field options of crab legs, tuna, and garlic. Most manufacturers don't list their specific flavouring ingredients for commercial reasons but will usually disclose what's in your favourite flavour if you get in touch.
  4. Nicotine - Not all e-liquids contain nicotine; even if they do, the exact dosage can vary widely. 3 mg is usually the lowest available nicotine content, and while in many countries, 20 mg is the highest level amount, black-market e-liquids can be over 50 mg.

What Are the Primary Differences Between Hookah and Vaping?

While it might seem that these two forms of smoking are similar on many levels, they're actually more different than alike. Here are the major differences. 


Hookah smoking has seen some significant changes in recent years, and it is possible to find nicotine-free shisha tobacco now. However, it's not common, and hookahs still typically use traditional tobacco - albeit the wet variety - whereas vapes don't need any. 

The science is clear when it comes to the health impact of the two. Scientists and doctors agree that vaping is substantially healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes. This means that, generally speaking, using a vape will be healthier than using a hookah.


While both a hookah pipe and a vape are capable of producing an enormous cloud of smoke, how they do it is very different, and similarly, what comes next isn't identical either. Vapes work with a coil heating up the e-liquid, which typically occurs almost instantaneously within a very small object. Vapes rely on batteries, and many are only single-use, meaning that when they stop working, it's time to buy another. 

Hookahs, on the other hand, use coals placed alongside the shisha tobacco. These need to be tended to, often by somebody working at a shisha cafe or wherever you are. The process is more drawn out, and the smoke itself needs to travel further than with a vape. Hookahs don't need batteries and can be lit with a match or lighter.

Form & Portability

You will rarely see somebody walking around with a hookah pipe. They are big, cumbersome, and use coal heated to high temperatures - not ideal while on the go. Vapes, on the other hand, are small enough to fit in your pocket and can be used without a second thought while strolling down the road. Even the bulkier vapes, such as box mods, are convenient and easy to use while on the go.


Smoking a hookah pipe has traditionally been a social and connective experience. Walk through the streets of Istanbul, Cairo, or Mumbai, and you'll likely see groups of people gathered around them, each taking it in turn. In that aspect, they are entirely different to vapes that are usually used by one person only. 

Hookahs have also become deeply ingrained within many cultures, and while you may argue that vapes are headed in that direction someday, they're not at the same stage yet. Hookahs are more about sitting and relaxing with your friends, while vapes are personal devices.

Do Hookah and Vaping Share Common Features?

It's clear that there are some major differences between the two, but they're not polar opposites. Here are a few common factors between the two. 


The biggest similarity between the two is that they both use flavouring to enhance the experience. Menthol cigarettes certainly had their heyday, but when did you ever hear about watermelon-flavoured cigarettes? E-liquid flavours have exploded in recent years and will almost certainly continue. 

Hookah flavours may be less wide-ranging, but the market is also quickly expanding. However, flavours differ between the two because hookah flavours often consider that the smoker will be sitting with the smoke around them for a longer time. With this in mind, hookah flavours are usually more delicate.

Non-Combustion-Based Smoke

Another key factor they share is that they both use non-combustion-based smoke. This means that they produce smoke not by lighting a smokeable on fire - which is what's happening with a cigarette - but rather by heating a smokeable until it produces smoke - or vapour in the case of e-liquid.

That may sound like a case of semantics, but the difference is apparent, as it impacts the level of harshness on your throat. Cigarette smoke can truly damage the throat, whereas vaping or using a hookah provides a much smoother experience.

Popular with Younger Crowds 

People of all ages have used hookahs for hundreds of years, but in recent decades, they've found their place among the young. This has also been the case for vapes. In the UK, the popular age range for people who said they used a vape at least 'occasionally' was 18-19 year-olds, with 27%, followed by 20-24-year-olds, with 19%. 

There have long been hookah conventions and shows that have been popular with the young, and we're already seeing similar trends with vaping. Last year, the VaperExpo Event in the UK attracted more than 20,000 visitors and over 300 exhibitors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Vaping Better Than Hookah?

In terms of health, smoking a vape will always be considered better because of the higher nicotine content typically found in shisha tobacco. However, if you're using e-liquid with a high dosage of nicotine and shisha with a low dosage, the differences become much smaller. 

Is a Shisha Pen Better Than a Vape?

There's often some misconception about what a shisha pen is. Rather than being a 'mobile' hookah device, a shisha pen is essentially just a vape, so there isn't a big difference between the two. 

Final Thoughts

If you're looking for a 'winner' between hookahs and vapes, it depends on what you're looking for. A hookah is more of a social experience where people sit around a table - similar to lounging around a UK pub - while vapes are great if you're on the go or trying to quit traditional cigarettes. While it's easy to see them as simply two similar smoking methods, they are, in fact, very different on many levels. 

If you're looking for a great hookah experience near you, jump on a search engine, and you're bound to find something, but if it's top-quality vapes and a great selection of e-liquids, Relx should be your first port of call. We offer starter kits for those new to vaping who want to see what the fuss is about before making further purchases, as well as disposable vapes and rechargeable models.

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