Debunking a hazy health myth

My father, a hospice physician, rightfully scared me away from smoking at an early age.

But when the opportunity to smoke hookah presented itself, all I could think was: It’s harmless, right?

The myths surrounding hookah smoke are almost as prevalent as the activity itself. Doctors say that despite what you may have heard from your friends, hookah is just as dangerous – if not more so – than smoking cigarettes.

“People may erroneously believe since the smoke in a hookah pipe is filtered through water that the process somehow filters out the harmful chemicals,” Vinayak Jha, a pulmonologist for the GW Medical Faculty Associates, said. “Hookah smoke contains arsenic, lead, nickel, tar and other harmful chemicals.”

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Jordan Emont | Assistant Photo Editor
Contrary to popular rumors, smoking hookah, a common activity among college students, poses health risks similar to smoking cigarettes.

Jha also cited studies that say smoking hookah is “associated with an increased risk for lung cancer, respiratory illness, low birth-weight infants and periodontal disease.”

Though many tout the non-addictive qualities of hookah as a cigarette alternative, a 2011 American Lung Association report revealed that the overall level of nicotine exposure during a hookah session is equivalent to smoking 10 cigarettes and that smoke inhalation equals that of smoking 100 cigarettes.

The shared mouthpiece also exposes users to a variety of infectious diseases like the common cold, influenza and the Epstein-Barr virus – the virus behind mononucleosis, commonly referred to as mono.

Users likely smoke hookah less than cigarettes due to its more intricate instrument setup, but Jha said evidence suggests that even one-time use of hookah can increase carbon monoxide in blood streams and raise heart and blood pressure.

Next time your friends are passing the hookah hose, keep your health in mind – pass on it.

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