Flavors can be deceiving: Hookah tobacco may taste better than a cigarette, but its ingredients can be more harmful, according to a recent study.
A meta-analysis of 542 scientific articles has found that, compared with a single cigarette, a single session of hookah smoking delivers 125 times more smoke, 25 times more tar, 2.5 times more nicotine and 10 times more carbon monoxide. Hookah smoking involves inhaling vaporized, flavored tobacco through a waterpipe.
It's not a perfect comparison, since frequent cigarette smokers may light up as many as 20 cigarettes a day, while habitual hookah users likely smoke only a few times per day, according to the study's lead author, Dr. Brian Primack, assistant vice chancellor for health and society at the University of Pittsburgh. But Primack said the results serve as an important education tool to enlighten smokers—especially teenagers—about the dangers of tobacco, regardless of how it is used.
“We have a lot of young people who report that (a hookah) felt 'so easy versus when I tried a cigarette, which was burning and harsh,' ” Primack said. “That gives them a sense in itself that (a hookah) somehow may not be as toxic.”
Primack and his colleagues hope the study can serve as supporting evidence for legislators and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to consider including hookah smoking in tobacco-related laws that protect youth. He noted that federal regulations outlaw cigarettes that have “characterizing flavors” like cherry and chocolate, yet hookah and other tobacco products are still allowed to contain such flavorings.