Is Hookah Safer Than Cigarettes?

As hookah becomes more popular in the United States, some students may be spending time smoking in hookah lounges.

As hookah becomes more popular in the United States, some students may be spending time smoking in hookah lounges.

What many of them may not know is that this behavior is bad. In fact, new research suggests that a large number of young adults mistakenly believe hookah, or shisha, is a safer alternative to cigarettes.

Researchers from the Rutgers School of Public Health recently studied 2871 smoking and nonsmoking young adults ages 18 to 34.

Almost one-third (32.7%) of those ages 18 to 24 said they believed hookah was less risky than cigarettes, and 18.5% of their slightly older peers (ages 25 to 34) also said hookah was a safer option.

“This is concerning as it suggests that even a substantial proportion of nonsmokers may view hookah as being a relatively safer and acceptable way to use tobacco,” the researchers wrote.

Hookah users and traditional smokers face many of the same health risks, since nicotine is found in both substances, and hookah smoke is “at least as toxic as cigarette smoke,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hookah smokers may actually absorb more toxic substances than cigarette smokers because they tend to smoke for longer periods of time and inhale more smoke during sessions. Like cigarette smokers, hookah users also face increased risk of oral, lung, stomach, and esophageal cancers, plus reduced lung function and decreased fertility.

The study also found that between 22% and 33% of the young adults said they thought smokeless tobacco products, snus, menthol cigarettes, and cigars were more risky than cigarettes. Most respondents (57.8%) also said e-cigarettes were less risky than cigarettes.

About 31% of the respondents noted that they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes before.

The researchers suggested that tobacco products promoted as safer than cigarettes may not encourage smokers to ditch cigarettes, but instead pick up other products in addition to them.

The study results were published in Health Education and Behavior.