Thanks to decades of legislation and awareness efforts, cigarette smoking has declined from 20.9 percent of U.S. adults in 2005 to 15.5 percent in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The health effects of smoking are now well known, prompting more and more people to quit smoking—or not start at all.
But unfortunately, that’s not true of all tobacco products. One type of smoking—with a hookah pipe—is growing in popularity, especially among high school and college students, says the CDC. Various reports estimate that between 22 to 40 percent of college students have used hookah within the past year.
While tobacco use among young adults is often contributed to teenage rebellion, the case with hookah might be a little different. A common myth is that hookahs are safer than cigarettes, and as a result, many people feel comfortable trying it out.
Hookah smoking may be legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. In fact, hookah smoking poses the same risks as cigarettes, and it’s not any safer, according to the CDC. Here are some of the ways hookah smoking poses a risk to your health:
Chemicals from charcoal get inhaled through the smoke. Many of these are toxic, including carbon monoxide and metals.
Hookah contains the addictive drug nicotine, yet one study of beginner hookah smokers found that 90 percent believed hookahs were less addictive than cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).
Hookah sessions last longer than a typical smoke break. During an hour-long hookah session, you might take around 200 puffs, inhaling about 90,000 milliliters of smoke, according to the CDC. By contrast, a cigarette takes about 20 puffs, and you might inhale closer to 500 milliliters of smoke. That means you might inhale 100 cigarettes’ worth of smoke in one hookah session, says the ALA.
Sharing hookah mouthpieces exposes you to germs. Puff, puff, passing within a group of people, as is the norm, increases the risk of spreading infections.
These risks add up. Those who regularly smoke from hookah water pipes are at risk of the same health problems as cigarette smokers, according to the CDC. These risks include reduced lung function, decreased fertility, clogged arteries and heart disease, and cancer of the mouth, lung, stomach, and esophagus.
If your hookah habit is minor, check out this five-step approach to break any bad habit. If you need more help, don’t be afraid to find a support group, get tips from your doctor, or find resources from SmokeFree.gov.