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January 13, 2016

Research: Hookah session delivers 25 times the tar of a single cigarette

Findings state smoking hookah also packs 2.5 times the nicotine and 10 times the carbon monoxide

Smoking Studies
Hookah Nam Y. Huh/AP

A government survey released on Thursday, April 16, 2015, says U.S. teen cigarette smoking fell below 10 percent, but dramatic increases in teens puffing electronic cigarettes and hookahs offset the use of traditional nicotine products like cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco.

Smoking hookah may be viewed as a more social experience and less common occurrence than smoking cigarettes, especially as more and more hookah bars continue to pop up on curbsides across the country.

But the idea that hookah is a healthier alternative to cigarettes is just smoke and mirrors, recent analysis by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine has found.

The research, funded by a National Cancer Institute grant, shows a single hookah session delivers approximately 25 times the tar, 125 times the smoke, 2.5 times the nicotine and 10 times the carbon monoxide compared to a single cigarette.

These findings were published online and scheduled for the January/February print issue of the journal Public Health Reports. The research was based on the analysis of 17 studies showing sufficient estimates on the amount of toxicants inhaled by both smoking cigarettes and hookahs.

Lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., added in a press release on the university's website that comparing smoking hookah to cigarettes is "complex" due to the differences in smoking patterns of the two.

“A frequent cigarette smoker may smoke 20 cigarettes per day, while a frequent hookah smoker may only participate in a few hookah sessions each day," the report states. "So, the estimates we found cannot tell us exactly what is ‘worse.’ But what they do suggest is that hookah smokers are exposed to a lot more toxicants than they probably realize.”

These findings come at a time when recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show the past 30-day use of hookah tobacco was higher than the past 30-day use of cigarettes among U.S. high-school students.

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