Smoking hookah could be even MORE dangerous than smoking

Smoking trendy hookah waterpipes could be even MORE dangerous than other forms of smoking ‘because it goes on for longer’

  • Researchers said one draw of the pipe is the equivalent to a cigarette
  • Higher levels of carbon monoxide and inhaled during a smoking session
  • Ultrafine particles, which can reach the depths of lungs, are in abundance 
  • Scientists reiterated that hookah smoking as a less hamful alternative is a myth 

Smoking trendy hookah waterpipes could be more dangerous than other forms of smoking, scientists have said.

Researchers have found one draw of the tabletop pipe has the equivalent amount of hazardous substances as an entire cigarette.

Smokers of the sweet-smelling pipers also get a higher dose of chemicals because smoking sessions in bars and lounges can go on for hours.

Contrary to popular belief, the water bowl doesn’t filter the smoke and make it ‘healthier’, the scientists said.

They discovered the water actually creates ultrafine particles which are able to reach the deepest parts of the lungs.

Hookah pipes have grown in popularity in recent years, with up to a fifth of young people in the US and Europe using them as well as famous footballers and celebrities.

Experts have previously warned the negative effects are said to be the equivalent or worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes.

Smoking trendy hookah waterpipes (pictured, Kylie Minogue) could be more dangerous than other forms of smoking, scientists in California have said

Chemists discovered the water in hookah creates ultrafine particles which are able to reach the deepest parts of the lungs. The Canadian rapper Drake is thought to be a fan of shisha smoking after he was snapped on Instagram indulging in a hookah pipe

Hookah is an ancient form of smoking in which charcoal-heated tobacco or non-tobacco based shisha smoke is passed through water before inhalation. 

Lead author Professor Veronique Perraud said: ‘One of the big myths about hookah usage is that the water in the bowl actually filters out the toxic chemicals, providing a shield for the smoker.

‘In the study, we show that this is not the case for most of the gases.

‘These measured emissions of volatiles and particles are compared with those from a reference cigarette and represent the equivalent of the emission of one or more entire cigarettes for a single puff of hookah smoke.’

Chemists at University of California Irvine analyzed emissions during a typical waterpipe session using custom-built apparatus.

Professor Perraud said: ‘Hookah mainstream smoke—that which is directly inhaled by the user—has many toxic and harmful chemicals, such as nicotine, which can lead to tobacco addiction; irritating carbonyl compounds; and benzene, a known carcinogen.


Hookah is an ancient form of smoking, also called narghile, waterpipe, or hubble bubble smoking, which uses charcoal-heated tobacco or non-tobacco based shisha smoke which is passed through water before inhalation.

It is often seen as less toxic compared to cigarettes, alongside e-cigarettes and vaping.

The sweet flavours available make shisha smoking desirable, especially the young people – around half the smoking teenagers do is in this way.

Hookah smokers can spend long periods of time in lounges and bars inhaling the fumes.

A typical hookah session lasting one hour involves 200 puffs, which results in 90,000 milliliters of smoke being inhaled.

Smoking a cigarette involves 20 puffs, resulting in 500-600 milliliters of smoke being inhaled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

World champion sprinter Usain Bolt and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero have both been pictured smoking shisha.

And musicians including Drake, Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue have all been pictured using a hookah in recent years.

But mounting evidence finds smoking shisha is not safe.

‘And due to the greater volume inhaled for every puff and the longer duration of a smoking session, the hookah oftentimes delivers a higher dose of those chemicals to the smoker.’

The waterpipe produced a significantly larger amount of carbon monoxide (CO) compared to a cigarette, according to the findings published in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology.

This is mainly due to the burning of charcoal to heat the tobacco or herbal mixture in its bowl.

The dose of CO from a single waterpipe smoking session was equivalent to a dose of CO from 12 cigarettes, the authors wrote.

They noted there have been several cases in which hookah users have suffered from CO intoxication. 

The team found nicotine-free herbal mixture, often marketed as a healthier alternative, had even higher levels of toxic gases present in the mainstream smoke.

The study is the first to report on the size of particles produced from hookah smoke.

Ultrafine particles—those with a diameter smaller than 100 nanometers— were clearly visible at the beginning of the hookah session.

Professor Perraud said: ‘We were able to show that a smoker is exposed to a higher quantity of ultrafine particles during the first 10 minutes compared to the rest of the time.’

Shisha usually consists of a bowl that holds tobacco and is attached to hose that leads from a body of water to a mouthpiece (pictured). Researchers said the water promotes ultrafine particle formation

Lead author Professor Veronique Perraud said the idea the water bowl provides a shield for the smoker is a ‘big myth’. Singer Katy Perry is pictured smoking shisha

After ten minutes, the dose of hookah mainstream smoke particles received by one smoker in one puff was somewhat comparable to the dose of a cigarette.

The tiny particles can pose significant health risks because they can make their way deep into the pulmonary system.

The smallest ones – as small as four nanometers – can readily cross the blood-brain barrier, which is there to restricts the passage of toxic substances.

Professor Perraud said: ‘Possibly due to its cooling effect, water actually promotes ultrafine particle formation.’ 

The cooler burning contents of the hookah bowl also produces a heightened amount of glycerol, the researchers found. 

When heated, this normally harmless substance that’s used as a food additive decomposes, creating small aldehydes that are irritants and potential carcinogens, including carbon monoxide, acrolein and acetaldehyde, and benzene.

The researchers are conducting further research, supported by The National Institutes of Health.    

In January 2019, scientists at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School warned smoking shisha ‘significantly increases’ the risk of diabetes and obesity and is worse than a whole packet of cigarettes.

And in March, The American Heart Association published a statement that warned a hookah session of just half and hour causes users to take in more carbon monoxide than smoking a cigarette. 

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