6 Facts That Will Make You Avoid Hookah

Hookah is gaining in popularity here in the U.S., in part because people believe it a safe way to smoke tobacco,  but is this true?  Let's take a closer look.

1
Water-Cooled Hookah Smoke Contains Tobacco Toxins

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Pieces of charcoal on top of hookah bowl. Marius Hepp / EyeEm/Getty Images

It is a common misconception that hookah smoke is safer than traditional cigarette smoke because it's passed through water in the hookah pipe.

While water-cooled smoke is less harsh on delicate lung tissue, the toxicity of the smoke is unchanged.  The cancer-causing chemicals present in the hookah tobacco are not filtered out by this process.

Additionally, the charcoal that is used to heat the tobacco contains carbon monoxide, metals, and other cancer-causing agents, adding another level of danger to smokers.

2
Hookah Smokers are Exposed to Tar

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Svetlana Zhukova/Moment/Getty Images

Some hookah tobacco products may claim they don't contain tar, but that information is misleading.

The fact is, no tobacco contains tar until it is burned, or in the case of hookah tobacco, heated.  Researchers feel that the toxicity of hookah tar may be less than cigarette tar because of this difference, but it still contains toxins.

Hookah smokers may even take in more tar and carbon monoxide than cigarette smokers because inhalation through the water pipe requires a stronger drag for a longer period of time.

3
Hookah is as Toxic as Traditional Tobacco Products

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Man smoking a cigarette next to hookah pipe. Design Pics / David DuChemin/Perspectives/Getty Images

Nicotine:

A typical manufactured cigarette contains between 7 and 22 milligrams of nicotine, depending on brand, with about 1 mg being absorbed by the smoker.  

A typical hookah bowl contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes.  It has been estimated that daily hookah smokers absorb approximately the same amount of nicotine and other chemicals as they would if they smoked 10 cigarettes a day.

Toxins:

Both cigarette smoke and hookah smoke contain numerous toxins, including arsenic, lead, nickel, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein and polonium 210, a radioactive isotope

Inhalation:

Smokers inhale 500 - 600 ml of smoke in the 20 puffs it takes to smoke a cigarette.   If they're smoking hookah, which is usually an event that lasts 45 min to an hour, smokers inhale approximately 90,000 ml of smoke and take 200 puffs on the water pipe.  

4
Sharing the Hookah Pipe Can Spread Illness

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Ashok Sinha/Photodisc/Getty Images

Hookah is usually smoked in a social setting, with several people sharing the same pipe.  Because the mouthpiece is passed from person to person, colds and other infections, including oral herpes can be passed along.  

5
Young Smokers are Swapping Cigarettes for Hookah

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Ethan Welty/Aurora/Getty Images

The good news is that teen cigarette smoking in the U.S. is dropping, due in large part to an increased awareness of the dangers associated with tobacco use.  While one in three high school seniors report having tried smoking at some point, only one in fifteen is a regular daily smoker, down from one in four in 1997.

The bad news is that teens appear to be swapping cigarettes for other hazardous smoking alternatives.   Smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes and hookah use are all on the rise with American youth.  

According to a study published in July of 2014, approximately 18 percent of high school seniors across the U.S. have tried hookah.  And in Canada, the numbers are higher - one in four high school seniors have experimented with hookah.  

Research also shows that approximately 40 percent of American college students have tried hookah.  Hookah lounges are popping up close to college campuses all over the country.

6
Hookah Smokers Face Many of the Same Health Risks as Cigarette Smokers

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Cancers associated with hookah use include:

Additionally, hookah use is associated with decreased lung function, heart disease and can have a negative effect on fertility.

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In summary...

Hookah smoking exposes people to many of the same toxins that are present in cigarettes.  Additionally, secondhand smoke from hookah is hazardous to health, even if you're not actively smoking.  If you're in the room with a lit hookah water pipe, you're breathing in cancer-causing toxins.

The best thing you can do for your health is to avoid all tobacco products because none of them are considered safe.

Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics. Hookah Use Among U.S. High School Seniors. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/07/01/peds.2014-0538.abstract. Accessed April 2015.

University of Waterloo. One in Four High School Seniors Now Try Waterpipes. https://uwaterloo.ca/news/news/one-four-high-school-seniors-now-try-water-pipes. Accessed April 2015.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. Knowledge and Attitudes Toward Hookah Usage Among University Students. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23930750. Accessed April 2015.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking: An Emerging Health Crisis in the United States. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3215592/. Accessed April 2015.

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Office of Adolescent Health. Trends in Adolescent Tobacco Use. http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/substance-abuse/tobacco/trends.html. Accessed April 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hookahs. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/hookahs/index.htm. Accessed April 2015.

University of Maryland. Hookah Myths and Truths. http://www.health.umd.edu/sites/default/files/Hookah%20Brochure-%20Final_0.pdf. Accessed April 2015.

University of Maryland. Scientific Evidence of the Health Risks of Hookah Smoking. http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/cesarfax/vol17/17-23.pdf

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