by Amanda MacMillan
photo: Yanes,Romulo AHookah bars and lounges are gaining popularity among young adults, even as smoking rates decline and cigarette bans spread through bars and restaurants around the country. But is one actually safer than the other? According to new research being presented today at the American Chemical Society annual meeting, maybe not.
The truth is, doctors and scientists are really just beginning to establish the known health risks and safety issues surrounding hookah, a type of pipe that is used to smoke tobacco that's passed through water. But researchers at the University of Cincinnati have taken some initial steps to quantify the dangers, studying both hookah smoke and the unsmoked version of "shisha," the type of tobacco used in hookahs.
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The researchers found that both the tobacco and the smoke it produces contained lower levels of four toxic metals also found in cigarette smoke: arsenic, lead, cadmium and chromium. However, this does not mean that hookahs are less dangerous than cigarettes, say the study authors. "Any form of smoking is dangerous," said Joseph Caruso, Ph.D., who led the research. "It is very difficult to compare hookah smoking with cigarette smoking because they are done so differently."
Previous studies have shown, for instance, that a typical hour-long hookah smoking session involves 200 puffs, while an average cigarette is 20 puffs. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that an hour-long hookah session is equivalent to smoking five to ten packs of cigarettes. But, people tend to smoke hookahs much less frequently than they do cigarettes. Either way, you're still inhaling chemicals -- gross.
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The researchers say that hookah is "the first new tobacco trend of the 21st century," and that more research is definitely needed on its links to health problems like cancer, heart disease and even infectious diseases that can be transmitted via the pipe's mouthpiece. (Ew.) One thing they know for sure: It's not a safe alternative to cigs.
Do you ever visit hookah bars? Does this study affect how you think of them? Tweet us at @amandaemac and @SELFmagazine.
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by Amanda MacMillan