The Theory Everyone knows that cigarettes can kill, but is the danger reduced by smoking through a water pipe known as a hookah? Apparently not, according to a study in the July issue of Respirology, an international peer-reviewed journal, which found that the risks to users of the fashionable smoking device appear to be as great as those from cigarettes, even though the smoke seems less harsh and has therefore been thought to be less toxic.
The Reality Sana S. Al-Mutairi and his colleagues at Kuwait University School of Medicine analyzed the concentration of nicotine and cotinine, a breakdown product of nicotine, in the urine samples of a group that included 77 hookah users, 75 cigarette smokers and 16 healthy nonsmokers. All were between the ages of 24 and 65; 13 were women.
The researchers found that although levels of nicotine and cotinine were highest in the cigarette smokers, the hookah users also had elevated levels of both toxic substances.
Chronic respiratory problems including symptoms of bronchitis were reported at a younger age among the hookah smokers than among cigarette smokers. Nearly 12 percent of hookah users had symptoms of chronic bronchitis, compared with 9.5 percent of cigarette smokers.
The Warning Other recent studies have found that hookahs are no safer than cigarettes and may pose additional risks because hookah smoking sessions, which are social events, last longer. The devices can harm gums: The American Academy of Periodontology warns that hookah smokers face a risk of gum disease that is five times greater than that faced by nonsmokers.
-- Sandra G. Boodman