Are Hookahs Bad for You?

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Are Hookahs Bad for You?
Are Hookahs Bad for You? (Image: Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

What is the truth about hookah smoking? Can it cause lung cancer? After all, a hookah is a mere water pipe that dilutes the smoke. Certainly it is less risky than smoking cigarettes, its supporters say. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disagrees, saying that like cigarettes, hookah smoking increases the user's cancer risk.

Hookah Use Increases in the U.S.

Hookah-smoking is a growing phenomenon among youth, according to the CDC. The artistically-designed hookah can be easily bought and, like any water pipe, stuffed with sweetened tobacco, and smoked legally. Middle Eastern restaurants with exotic belly dancers and hookah bars are also growing in popularity. The traditional 400-year-old practice is to offer the Hookah experience (at a price), along with drinks, for the pleasure of their patrons. It is usually a shared experience at an elegant table in such cosmopolitan locales as New York, Boston, Seattle and Miami. But many people smoke at home alone, or with friends.

Hookah Smokers Defend Use

"Not enough studies to prove it is harmful!" say the habitual users and those who promote their hookah products on the Internet. There have not been enough reliable clinical trials to determine whether hookah smoking is harmful, they say. Hookah smokers claim that it is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes and some say it gives them a high of sorts.

CDC: Cancer Risks Same As Cigarettes

The Centers for Disease Control says otherwise. In a list of 12 possible side effects complied by the CDC, Hookah smoking can lead to nicotine addiction and the increased risk of developing lung cancer. "Hookah tobacco and smoke contain numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other diseases, " states the CDC. "Even after it has passed through water, the smoke produced by a hookah contains high levels of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and cancer-causing chemicals."

WHO: Hookah smoke is toxic

The World Health Organization (WHO) says "There is surprising little research about water pipe smoking despite the millions of users worldwide." The WHO says hookah smoking is increasing and more research is needed. The organization provides these warnings in its 2005 fact sheet on smoking water pipes: 1) A typical one-hour long water pipe smoking session involves inhaling 100-200 more times the volume of smoke inhaled with a single cigarette. 2) Secondhand smoke from water pipes is a mixture of tobacco smoke in addition to smoke from the fuel and therefore poses a serious risk for non-smokers. Even after the smoke of the burning tobacco goes through the water, it is still full of toxic compounds, according to WHO. So while hookahs may be beautiful to look at, research says they do pose health risks.

Users want more proof

At Hookah & Shisha Central (www.hookah-shisha.com) there is a blog discussion about the safety of inhaling from a hookah. Some people are pro; some are con, but most hookah users agree that they need more proof that it causes cancer before they would quit.

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