Hookah's Healthy Alternative Claims Go Up in Smoke

You may have heard that smoking hookah is better for you than smoking cigarettes. Turns out, it’s all in how you define “better.” A recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention indicates that smoking hookah, or water pipes, may be more dangerous than originally thought.

Hookahs most often consist of a head connected to a water jar with a hose attached and a mouthpiece. Flavored tobacco is placed below burning charcoal in the head, and the resultant vapor is cooled then smoked. In the United States, Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, studies indicate a significant increase in hookah smoking. This increase is especially evident in younger people. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 teens smoke hookah, and as many as 40 percent of U.S. college students report using a water pipe.
This increase is likely due to the popularly held belief that hookah are less harmful than cigarettes. However, the study results show otherwise.

Hookah smokers are exposed to significant amounts of carbon monoxide, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA), nicotine, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and aldehydes during smoking sessions.
The study utilized biomarkers to evaluate the exposure to nicotine, TSNAs and other compounds smokers experienced during just one evening of smoking. On average, participants in the study spent 74 minutes smoking and smoked on average 0.6 bowls of hookah each per night.
Immediately after and the morning after smoking, elevated levels of nicotine were found in the participants’ urine samples. Lead author of the study Gideon St. Helen, PhD from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco said the increase in nicotine levels measured by the study were high enough to lead to nicotine addiction.
In addition to nicotine, hookah smokers were exposed to a variety of other compounds, including benzene which has been linked to the causation of leukemia.
Though the study was relatively small, its results indicate that smoking, whether its cigarettes, hookah or something else, can cause serious health problems. Hookah especially, while being linked to lower nicotine exposure than cigarettes, exposes smokers to much higher levels of carbon monoxide – a deadly gas.
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