No, hookahs or the water pipe smoking is not less harmful than cigarette smoking - they're just different, a new study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention by the University of California, San Francisco, (UCSF) has revealed.
Hookahs, popular among college goers in the United States and the young crowd in the Middle East and South Asia, contain toxins that are different from those found in cigarettes, but are equally harmful.
According to lead researchers Peyton Jacob III and Neal Benowitz, hookah exposes smokers to higher levels of carbon monoxide and benzene. The former is dangerous for those with heart or respiratory conditions while the latter is associated with leukaemia risk.
"We found that water-pipe smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking, nor is it likely to be an effective harm-reduction strategy," Jacob said. According to Benowtiz, hookah users stand a greater risk of getting cancer than non-smokers.
The study comprised of subjecting 13 volunteers (8 men and 5 women) to smoking an average of 11 cigarettes a day or three hookah sessions.
The researchers found that that the level of benzene byproduct in the urine of hookah users were higher than those found in cigarette smokers. Similarly, the level of carbon monoxide in the breath of hookah users were 2.5 higher than that in the breath of cigarette smokers.
However, the intake of nicotine, the addictive component in tobacco was less with hookah use.
"A different pattern of carcinogen exposure might result in a different cancer risk profile between cigarette and water pipe smoking," the researchers concluded.