Hookah smoking has become quite popular these days, particularly among the younger generation. And one reason for this surge in popularity is that many believe these devices are less dangerous than other forms of smoking. Unfortunately, a new study from the American Heart Association (AHA) warns that this is likely not the case.
In a statement, the AHA says that although direct comparisons are limited in some ways—because they are different administrations for smoking tobacco—a single hookah session will, on average, expose the smoker to more toxic chemicals than a single cigarette.
Specifically, the statement tells, “Comparing a single cigarette with a single water pipe session shows that water pipe use exposes smokers to significantly higher levels of heavier and more toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than cigarette smoking.”
It is important to note, the group says, that smoking from a hookah is different form a cigarette, typically lasting half an hour (or longer). As such, this should be factored into the comparison. Still, any exposure to carbon monoxide—as a result of smoking tobacco—is harmful, resulting in acute impact to heart rate and blood pressure.
To put it another way, research lead Aruni Bhatnagar comments, “Many young people mistakenly believe that smoking tobacco from a hookah is less harmful than cigarette smoking because the tobacco is filtered through water, but there is no scientific evidence that supports that claim.”
The University of Louisville professor of medicine advises, too, that many young people also enjoy hookah smoking more than cigarette smoking because hookah tobacco tends to be flavored or scented. This makes for a much more pleasant experience, but also encourages these longer smoking sessions; and that is what contributes to the potentially higher exposure to toxic chemicals that affect the cardiovascular system. These chemicals include not only carbon monoxide, nicotine, and polcycic aromatic hydrocarbons, but also acrolein, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and other air pollutants and volatile chemical compounds.
And, Bhatnagar adds, we also have evidence that hookah smoking is addictive, and that means those who smoke from a hookah are more likely to move on to other types of tobacco products. Indeed, the American Heart Association reports that 4.8 percent of high school students surveyed smoked a hookah (at least once) in 2016. This number is up from 4.1 percent in 2011.
The results of this study have been published in the journal Circulation.