AUG 07, 2018 3:40 PM PDT

Hookah Smoking, Not as Safe as it Claims

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

Hookah cafes are gaining in popularity around the world from Britain to Russia to the United States. Use in college students and youths is increasing, with ~15-17% of high school seniors and 22-40% of college students in the United States using hookah in the past year. Data shows that of adults aged 18-24 19.6% use cigarettes, 8.9% use e-cigarettes and 18.2% use hookah. The general perception is that hookah use is less harmful to our health than cigarette smoking, but is that really the case? A recent study published in the American Journal of Cardiology looked at the result of hookah smoking on cardiovascular development risk factors.

The hookah, also known as a water pipe, is used to smoke specially made tobacco by indirectly heating it with burning embers/charcoal. The smoke from the burning tobaccos is filtered through a bowl of water and then drawn through a rubber hose to a mouthpiece. The process of filtering through the water, and inhalation through the rubber hose, leads many to believe it is safer than cigarette smoking despite there being many health risks associated with hookah. Previous research shows that smoke from a hookah contains high levels of toxic agents even after passing through the water, these agents are known to cause lung, bladder, and oral cancers. These toxic agents can also clog arteries and lead to heart disease, low birth weights and increased risk for respiratory disease in infants exposed to hookah during pregnancy, and the potential to pass infections when sharing a hookah mouthpiece with other smokers. Hookah smoking delivers nicotine and smoke at least as toxic as regular cigarettes, making it no safer than cigarette smoking and leading to increased risk for similar diseases.

The recently published study, from University of California Los Angeles, investigated the effects of hookah smoking on stiffening of the arteries which is a risk factor in the development of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack or stroke. Researchers measured heart rate, blood pressure, arterial stiffness, blood nicotine, and exhaled carbon monoxide levels in 48 healthy, young hookah smokers before and after 30 minutes of hookah smoking. Just the single session of hookah smoking increased heart rate and blood pressure and showed significantly increased arterial stiffness. This increase in arterial stiffness was comparable to cigarette smokers, supporting the argument that hookah is just as harmful.

Hookah smoking continues to increase in popularity, with 48% of hookah smokers finding it more attractive than traditional cigarettes due to the fruity flavors and smells added to hookah tobacco. "We know that flavored tobacco products are frequently the first kind of tobacco product used by youth," Rezk-Hanna, lead author of the study said. "One of the major issues with hookah is the fact that the tobacco is flavored with fruit, candy and alcohol flavors, making hookah the most popular flavored tobacco product among this audience." Despite the prohibition of artificial or natural flavors being added to cigarettes, this does not apply to hookah tobacco contributing to its rapidly growing popularity. This study shows that one hookah session, of a relatively short time span, caused an increase in arterial stiffness similar to cigarettes. Further research will focus on habitual hookah smoking and its acceleration of age-dependent development of hypertension and cardiovascular complications that may contribute to risk factors for heart attack or stroke.

To learn more about hookah watch the video below!

American Lung Association


About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
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