Hookah Smoke as Toxic as Cigarettes, Study Says

By Paul Gaita 02/27/15

Despite carrying the same risks as regular smoke, hookahs remain popular among young people.

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The use of a hookah, or water pipe, has become more popular among young people in North America, largely due to the belief that the water in its base filters or purifies the tobacco smoke as it passes through the device. But a new study shows that hookahs only filter a marginal amount of the dangerous toxic metals found in tobacco.

Researchers at German Jordanian University in Jordan examined the amount of heavy metals found in four samples of the most popular tobacco brands and flavors available in their country. They found that the same amount of said metals, including copper, iron, lead, and uranium found in the tobacco were present in the hookah smoke.

The water base filtered out only 3% of these substances, while a staggering 57% remained in the smoke, with the rest ending up in tobacco ash. The researchers also noted that heavy metal content may be affected by the type of hookah and where the tobacco was grown.

Previous studies have shown that contrary to widespread belief about hookah smoke, the use of water pipes may contain greater amounts of nicotine than cigarette smoke. Links between hookah use and an increased use of lung and oral cancer, as well as respiratory problems have also been found. A study published in December 2014 found that hookah users, and even those who breathe secondhand smoke from such devices, may be exposed to the chemical benzene, which has been linked to occurrences of leukemia.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.