As a society, we have been making tons of strides in the fight against cigarette smoking. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that some of the alternatives we are turning to aren't actually that much better than smoking at all.
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Many people have turned to hookah to curb the cravings for cigarettes. Hookahs are communal pipes that provide tobacco smoke through water. While many people thought that it was healthier, a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that smokers were still inhaling many toxins.
These findings will be published online and in the January/February print edition of the Journal of Public Health Records. The research team looked at over 500 scientific articles that discussed hookah smoking. The closely follower 17 studies that had reliable estimates about what smokers were inhaling.
They discovered that when compared to a single cigarette, one hookah session delivers approximately 125x the smoke, 25x the tar, 2.5x the nicotine, and 10x the carbon monoxide.
"Our results show that hookah tobacco smoking poses real health concerns and that it should be monitored more closely than it is currently," said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt's Schools of the Health Sciences. "For example, hookah smoking was not included in the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey System questionnaire, which assesses cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and many other forms of substance abuse."
Dr. Primack did point out that there are some problems with the comparison. The biggest one being the fact that cigarette smokers and hookah smokers tend to smoke different amounts per day.
"It's not a perfect comparison because people smoke cigarettes and hookahs in very different ways," said Dr. Primack. "We had to conduct the analysis this way--comparing a single hookah session to a single cigarette--because that's the way the underlying studies tend to report findings. So, the estimates we found cannot tell us exactly what is 'worse.' But what they do suggest is that hookah smokers are exposed to a lot more toxicants than they probably realize. After we have more fine-grained data about usage frequencies and patterns, we will be able to combine those data with these findings and get a better sense of relative overall toxicant load."
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It is ironic that this study comes out now, because The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that, for the first time in history, past 30-day use of hookah tobacco was higher than past 30-day use of cigarettes among U.S. high school students.