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Hookah vs. Cigarettes: Water Pipe Smoking Not As Harmless As Many Think

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As people steer away from cigarettes, more are smoking tobacco from hookahs, large communal pipes that draw tobacco smoke through water. It appears though that while smoking cigarette has long been acknowledged to be bad for the health, the alternatives are not at all safer and healthier as some have come to believe.

Some hookah smokers' think that the practice is less harmful compared with smoking cigarettes but water pipe smoking has many of the health risks associated with cigarette smoking.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hookah smokers are at risk of the same diseases and health problems that threaten cigarette smokers.

Hookah tobacco and smoke are known to contain toxic agents that can cause bladder and lung cancers, clogged arteries and heart disease. Tobacco juices from hookahs may also irritate the mouth and up risks for oral cancers.

Because hookah smoking is often done in groups with people using the same mouthpiece, infections may be passed from one smoker to another. Pregnant women who smoke water pipes everyday are likewise likely to have babies that weigh less at birth and are at an increased risk for respiratory diseases.

Secondhand smoke from hookahs also poses health risks for nonsmokers because this contains smoke from both the tobacco and the heat source used in the hookah.

A new study offers new evidence of the dangers of hookah smoking and the results suggest smoking hookah may even be more dangerous than smoking traditional cigarettes.

For the study published in Public Health Reports, researchers from the Pittsburgh School of Medicine reviewed 542 earlier studies on cigarette and hookah smoking and found 17 that offer sufficient data for them to estimate the toxicants inhaled by hookah smokers and regular cigarette smokers.

The researchers' meta-analysis revealed that a single smoking session from hookah delivers 25 times the tar, 10 times the carbon monoxide and 2.5 times the nicotine of a single cigarette.

Study author Dr. Brian Primack said that their findings show that hookah smoking poses real health concerns that need to be monitored closely with the rising popularity of hookah among young people and hookah cafés gaining popularity worldwide. Some products also claim that their users can enjoy the same taste of tobacco sans the harmful effects.

"Similar to cigarettes, hookah smoking delivers the addictive drug nicotine and it is at least as toxic as cigarette smoking. While many hookah smokers may consider this practice less harmful than smoking cigarettes, hookah smoking carries many of the same health risks as cigarettes," CDC said.

Primack and colleagues, however, noted that comparing a hookah smoking session to smoking cigarette is actually complex due to differences in smoking patterns. Frequent cigarette smokers, for instance, may puff 20 cigarettes in a day while frequent hookah smokers may only participate in a few hookah sessions per day.

"The estimates we found cannot tell us exactly what is 'worse.' But what they do suggest is that hookah smokers are exposed to a lot more toxicants than they probably realize," Primack said.

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