More Carbon Monoxide, Benzene In Hookah Smoke Than Cigarettes, Study Says

Apr 18, 2013 04:45 PM EDT

A lot of people scoff at cigarette smokers but will happily toke on a water pipe, or hookah, because it's more socially acceptable and even viewed as less hazardous than cigarettes.

But a new study from the University of California, San Francisco reports that hookah smoke contains a different - but still harmful - cocktail of chemicals that can lead to health problems.

Research chemist Peyton Jacob and tobacco researcher Neal Benowitz report that hookah users intake higher levels of carbon monoxide, hazardous to people with heart or respiratory conditions, and benzene, which is associated with leukemia risk.

"People want to know if it is a lesser health risk if they switch from cigarettes to smoking a water pipe on a daily basis," Jacob said. "We found that water-pipe smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking, nor is it likely to be an effective harm-reduction strategy."

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Benowitz said that compared to non-smokers a person smoking from a hookah daily is "likely to be at increased risk for cancer."

For the study, researchers asked eight men and five women - all of whom had prior experience smoking cigarettes and using water pipes - to volunteer to smoke an average of 11 cigarettes or three hookah sessions per day.

Compared to cigarette smoking, hookah smokers were shown to have a 2.5 higher concentration of carbon monoxide on their breath after 24 hours and twice the level of benzene detected in their urine.

Intake of nicotine, the addictive compound in cigarettes, was less with water pipe use. Benowitz said that smoking from a hookah about once a week was unlikely to cause a nicotine addiction.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that because of the prolonged smoking sessions associated with hookah use, people are likely to absorb higher concentrations of toxins.

"A typical 1-hour-long hookah smoking session involves inhaling 100-200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette," the agency reports. However, it should be noted that the composition of the smoke from hookahs and cigarettes is different.

Other research has stated that levels of carcinoembryonic antigens - usually not present in healthy adults, but observed in heavy cigarette smokers - in exclusive hookah smokers were not significantly different from the levels of non-smokers.

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