© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health, Science & Tech

Smoke, Tar Inhalation Still Worry Docs As Hookah Habits Rise


New research found that one hookah session could leave you with much higher rates of toxicants than a cigarette.

University of Pittsburgh researchers took the findings of 542 scientific articles and pared them down to 17 studies comparing hookah use to smoking cigarettes. 

“By looking at all of this data together and averaging it, you get a much better overall statistic that then we can use when we really think about these issues in a broader sense,” said Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh.

He pointed out that hookah is usually smoked over a longer period of time and therefore users inhale it at a higher rate, possibly consuming 125 times the amount of smoke in a cigarette. 

“One cigarette takes about five to six minutes to smoke and it involves about 11 drags on that cigarette," said Primack. "A hookah smoking session lasts much longer. It lasts between 45 and 60 minutes. Usually it is a more slow process, however, it can involves as many as 100 inhalations.”

Researchers also found that in a hookah session, a person can inhale 25 times as much tar, 10 times as much carbon monoxide and more than two times the nicotine in a cigarette. 

The study comes at a time when national cigarette usage is decreasing and hookah smoking is on the rise.

“In 2014, the CDC found, in a nationally-representative study, that for the first time in history, hookah smoking is actually more common among high school students than is cigarette smoking,” said Primack.

The Center for Disease Control found that hookah use doubled from 770,000 high school students in 2013 to 1.3 million in 2014.

He said this may be due to the appeal of hookah tobacco. The smoke is less harsh than a cigarette and is sold in an array of flavors.

“It is now illegal to have cigarette manufacturers make a cherry or chocolate-flavored cigarette. However, those kinds of flavors are freely available when it comes to water pipe,” said Primack.

Long-term studies in different parts of the world, where hookah is more prevalent, show similar long-term health effects as cigarettes, such as cancer, heart disease, and dependence, said Primack

“What we can say from this is that people are clearly exposed to a lot of toxins,” said Primack. “And that it’s certainly not a safe alternative.”