Hookah Smoking Not Safer Than Cigarettes

Water pipes carry just as many health risks, expert says

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FRIDAY, May 14, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Smoking a hookah doesn't water down smoking-related health risks, warns an expert concerned about the spread of this form of tobacco use in the United States.

Hookah bars are becoming popular across the country, particularly among college students and young adults.

Hookahs, also called water pipes, originated in the Middle East. In a hookah, tobacco is heated by charcoal. The tobacco smoke passes through a water-filled chamber, which cools the smoke before it's inhaled by the smoker.

Some people think hookahs deliver less tar and nicotine than cigarettes and have fewer health consequences because the smoke is filtered by the water.

Not true, Thomas Eissenberg, head of the Clinical Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a prepared statement.

"Water pipe smoking may be associated with significant health risks, and we only now are beginning to accumulate information on the issue," Eissenberg said.

Initial research indicates hookahs can increase carbon dioxide and nicotine exposure, speed up heart rate, and may contribute to heart disease and cancer.

"The water pipe is another method of tobacco use, one that we should not ignore as we fight the tobacco epidemic. Past experience has taught us that ignoring the epidemiology and health effects of tobacco-use products can lead to a public health disaster that may have been preventable," Eissenberg said.

He published a study in the April issue of Preventive Medicine that found hookah smoking, particularly for women, generally is viewed in a more positive light than smoking cigarettes. It's one of the first studies to examine the effects of social attitudes and gender on hookah and cigarette smoking.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about the dangers of smoking.

SOURCE: Virginia Commonwealth University, news release, April 2004

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