The Hard Truth About Hookahs
By Laura Perry
The “healthier” alternative to cigarettes isn’t what you think.
You probably wouldn’t smoke 100 cigarettes in an hour. But did you know that in an hour of hookah (i.e., waterpipe) smoking, you would inhale about the same amount of smoke?
Contrary to the belief that hookah is a healthier alternative to cigarettes, a study from the UCLA School of Nursing showed that in young, healthy adult hookah smokers, a single hookah smoking session causes stiffening of the arteries comparable to what has been previously reported with cigarette smoking. These findings have important implications, as arterial stiffness is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Hookah smoking is marketed to young adults as a safer, socially desirable alternative to cigarettes. Our goal was to investigate whether it causes similar effects as cigarettes on the aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body,” says Mary Rezk-Hanna M.S.N. ’11, Ph.D. ’16, an assistant professor at the school and lead researcher for the study. “And the answer was a ‘yes.’ Hookah smoking is not a safer alternative to cigarettes.”
Rezk-Hanna found in an earlier study that despite research showing the various chemical ingredients emitted when smoking hookah, many young adults believe that hookah smoking is not harmful to their health.
In one study, researchers visited three Southern California hookah lounges and asked patrons between the ages of 18 and 30, “Do you believe smoking hookah is harmful to your health?” Fifty-seven percent said no. When asked why they thought that, 47 percent said they believed the smoke gets filtered through water, and 35 percent said they thought the fruit used to flavor the tobacco detoxifies its harmful chemicals. Sixteen percent thought the tobacco is not addictive and does not contain nicotine.
But hookah exposes smokers not only to nicotine, but also to many of the other toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. And because a hookah smoking session is much longer than the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, hookah smokers typically absorb more toxic chemicals than cigarette smokers do.
Asked why hookah smoking is more appealing than cigarette smoking, 60 percent of the participants in the UCLA study said hookah smoking is a trendy way to socialize. And although 43 percent of hookah smokers said they believe the practice is indeed harmful, “Socializing with friends appeared to outweigh health concerns,” Rezk-Hanna says.
Originally published at magazine.ucla.edu.