Are hookahs safer than smoking cigarettes?

Are hookahs safer than smoking cigarettes?


Hookahs were invented 4 centuries ago, but only recently have they become popular in North and South America. They are a big trend among millennials and teenagers, who may be attracted by the social aspect of hookah smoking as well as the fun flavors.

Hookahs are seen by many people as safer than cigarettes, but is this true? The research done on hookah smoking is not nearly as extensive as that done on cigarette smoking, but the consensus of lung and heart specialists is, unfortunately, not encouraging. In some ways, hookah smoking may be more damaging to the lungs and cardiovascular system than cigarettes.

What is a hookah?

A hookah is a device that burns tobacco held in the “head” of the apparatus. The tobacco is heated with charcoal, wood, or electronically. This produces smoke which passes through a bowl filled with water, which is then inhaled by the user via a hose. Almost always the tobacco is flavored with fruit or candy. The hose is shared amongst several people who take turns inhaling.

That the smoke is flavored can fool people to think what they are smoking is not tobacco, and since the smoke passes through water, it seems cleaner. But while the water does indeed absorb some of the nicotine, the user inhales not only toxins from the tobacco (like cigarettes), but also some of the combustion particles from whatever fuel is heating the tobacco.

The World Health Organization on hookahs

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a comprehensive report on the health aspects of hookahs. Here are some of their main findings:

“A typical 1-hour waterpipe smoking session involves inhaling 100-200 times the volume of smoke inhaled with a single cigarette.

“Even after it has been passed through water, the smoke produced by a waterpipe contains high levels of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals.

“Waterpipe smoking is associated with many of the same risks as cigarette smoking, and may, in fact, involve some unique risks.

“Second-hand smoke from waterpipes is a mixture of tobacco smoke in addition to smoke from the fuel and therefore poses a serious risk for non-smokers.” [especially for pregnant women and their fetus]

Other research

Since the WHO report, other studies have been carried out confirming the conclusions of the WHO. The most recent report is from the University of California (Los Angeles) which studied 48 young adult hookah smokers, who were not cigarette smokers. They found that hookah smoke makes arteries stiffer, and less compliant, the same as happens with cigarettes.

None of the published studies suggest hookah smoking is safe. Unfortunately, hookah smoking is not a safe smoking alternative.

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website:

See also in ProcuraMed:

E-cigarettes “95% safer” than regular cigarettes

How ex-smokers can reduce their risk of emphysema

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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