Smoking hookah has become increasingly more popular in the past decade as smokers search for an alternative to cigarettes. Though past studies have cautioned smokers that hookah may not be as safe as it seems, a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) may have debunked the “safer than cigarettes” theory for good.
The study, led by Dr. Brian A. Primack, looked at hundreds of scientific articles to determine that the average hookah session delivers 25 times the tar, 2.5 times the nicotine and 10 times the carbon dioxide of the average cigarette.
“Our results show that hookah tobacco smoking poses real health concerns and that it should be monitored more closely than it is currently,” Primack said, according to the UPMC website.
While the results are eye-opening, Primack conceded that there are plenty of differences between hookah and cigarettes that could account for the increased levels in toxins. For one, the average hookah sessions lasts much longer than a cigarette, as hookah is a social experience that is shared by multiple people.
However, Primack argues that there is enough evidence provided in the study that warrants further regulation
“ … what (the studies) do suggest is that hookah smokers are exposed to a lot more toxicants than they probably realize. After we have more fine-grained data about usage frequencies and patterns, we will be able to combine those data with these findings and get a better sense of relative overall toxicant load,” he said.
The UPMC’s report also notes that hookah use is on the rise among teenagers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, past 30-day use of hookah exceeded that of past 30-day cigarette use for the first time in history in 2014. The UPMC also reported that one-third of college students are smoking hookah, over half of which were not regular cigarette smokers.
Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.