Hookahs or waterpipes are fast becoming the ‘it’ thing for youngsters under the impression that this form if smoking is less toxic than the traditional cigarettes. However, a leading expert in this field is warning that this notion is all hogwash, and that hookahs are rapidly becoming an epidemic.
Christopher Loffredo, Ph.D., Director of the Cancer Genetics and Epidemiology program at Georgetown University Medical Center revealed that though people, especially youngsters believe that hookahs are less toxic than cigarettes, the truth was that smoking a hookah for 30-60 minutes will be the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes.
"People who use these devices don't realize that they could be inhaling what is believed to be the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in one typical 30-60 minute session with a waterpipe, because such a large quantity of pure, shredded tobacco is used," Lofferedo said.
Loffredo, who has been studying tobacco use in Egypt since 1997, said that hookahs were not only immensely popular in the East and Middle East, but were also fast becoming a rage in the West as well.
However, his study had found that the amount of cellular chromosomal damage produced inside the mouth is the same as that seen in cigarette smoking.
What was even more worrying he said, was that even in cultures where women were traditionally discouraged from taking up the butt, hookahs were becoming acceptable.
"In Egypt, we've seen boys starting to smoke the waterpipe at age 12, and young women, who are culturally discouraged from smoking cigarettes, are flocking to it," he said.
He said that people were under the misconception that as water absorbs toxins, it is safer to smoke hookahs than cigarettes. However, the study finds that those who smoke hookahs are exposed to larger total amounts of nicotine, carbon monoxide and certain other toxins.
"People think the water absorbs the toxins, and that is true to some extent if the toxins are water soluble, but tar isn't, and tar contains the carcinogens. We believe that, compared to the typical cigarette smoker, waterpipe smokers are exposed to larger total amounts of nicotine, carbon monoxide and certain other toxins," Loffredo said.
He added that as tobacco burns at a lower temperature in waterpipes, it is not only easier to inhale, but also penetrates deeper into the respiratory tract that cigarette smoke, thus cause more damage.
"And because the tobacco is burning at a lower temperature, it is more tolerable to inhale deeply, and in fact you need more force to pull air through the high resistance of the water pathway. That means the tobacco smoke can be penetrating deeper in a person's respiratory tract than cigarette smoke does. The damage could be even worse than seen in cigarette smokers, but we haven't done studies long enough to quantify the true cancer risk," Loffredo said.