Hookah Vs Cigarettes: Study Finds Shisha Smoking Far Worse Than Cigarettes

Hookah pipes have a reputation for filtering out dangerous toxins, making users think they are much safer to use. A new study from researchers at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine says this isn't the case.

Hookah pipes may not protect smokers from adverse health effects.
Hookah smoking water pipes may not be as safe as users believe. [Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for DIFF]

As reported by Fox News, the research revealed one hookah session produces 2.5 times more nicotine, 10 times more carbon monoxide, 25 times more tar, and 125 times more smoke versus one cigarette.

"Our results show that hookah tobacco smoking poses real health concerns and that it should be monitored more closely than it is currently," lead author Dr. Brian A. Primack, PhD said in a press release about the study. "It's not a perfect comparison because people smoke cigarettes and hookahs in very different ways."

The report, published in the journal Public Health Reports, analyzed 17 previous studies that measured the toxins inhaled through various types of tobacco products. The researchers considered one shisha session to last between 45 and 60 minutes.

As some cigarette smokers may smoke up to 20 cigarettes a day, hookah users generally engage in far fewer sessions during the same period of time. Also, hookah smoking is not as closely monitored as other forms of smoking. In the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey System, only tobacco cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and some others were looked at, not shisha smoking.

"We had to conduct the analysis this way—comparing a single hookah session to a single cigarette—because that's the way the underlying studies tend to report findings. So, the estimates we found cannot tell us exactly what is 'worse,'" he added. "But what they do suggest is that hookah smokers are exposed to a lot more toxicants than they probably realize."

A hookah is a shared pipe where users inhale tobacco smoke that passes through a water basin. Contrary to what many users believe, another hookah study done last year by a different research group found the water barely filters any toxins, instead only cools the smoke.

Over the years, researchers have been studying the adverse effects of hookah smoking on a person's health. Many have found that hookah smoking has led to an increased risk of lung and bladder cancers, heart disease, as well as clogged arteries. Some speculate the juices in shisha can heighten the chances of developing oral cancer, while the charcoal used as the heat source produces metals, carbon monoxide, and other toxic materials. Tar in burning tobacco can also stain teeth and skin.

According to a Rutgers University study, 24 percent of both smokers and nonsmokers under age 25 think hookahs are safer to smoke than traditional cigarettes. The survey also revealed 58 percent of respondents believe e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes. While 11 percent said they weren't sure.

Tobacco cigarettes may be more harmful than e-cigs.
Many young smokers believe e-cigs are a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes. [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

While inconclusive, a study published in the Journal of Oral Oncology claims that the vapor from electronic smoking devices may damage DNA and possibly even kill human cells. The researchers concluded that e-cigs are no better versus smoking regular cigarettes.

"Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public," wrote the authors.

While this study says e-cigs are worse for someone's health than tobacco cigarettes, the research is still widely debated. Another study conducted by British American Tobacco researchers found vapor from e-cigarettes had no adverse impacts, particularly on the lungs, and is a viable alternative to tobacco.

"Our recent world-leading review found that e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoking – the harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke, including carcinogens, are either absent in e-cigarette vapor or are at significantly lower levels than in tobacco smoke," said Kevin Fenton, national director of health and well-being at Public Health England.

While researchers contradict each other, all seem to agree that quitting smoking altogether is best.

In the U.S., smoking rates for adults have dropped to just 14.9 percent, while hookah and e-cigarette use has skyrocketed. The number of young adults using hookahs and e-cigs had actually doubled between 2011 and 2014 per the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]