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Hookah and cigarettes: which is worse?

hookah smoke
Two lighters are lit. One is held to the end of a cigarette while the other is held to a piece of charcoal on top of a hookah. Both items are being lit to produce tobacco smoke.
We know tobacco causes multiple health problems, but is one method of smoking it safer than the other?
In an anonymous poll of FGCU students, cigarettes were deemed worse. Out of 35 students polled, 63.2 percent said they believed smoking a cigarette is safer than a 45-minute hookah session.

Dylan Ceresoli, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice, falls in the 63.2 percent. “Cigarettes are worse — they have addictive qualities, stink, and are more unattractive.”

However, recent research suggests smoking hookah may not be that much safer than smoking cigarettes.

According to FloridaTrend magazine, a single cigarette holds about 500 milliliters of smoke. A single water pipe use episode, which holds about 90,000 milliliters of smoke, is associated with 1.7 times the nicotine, 6.5 times the CO, and 46.4 times the tar.
So why is there such a common misconception of hookah being safer than cigarettes?
If Erin Fitz-Patrick, a sophomore majoring in hospitality, had to choose between a smoking a cig¬arette and smoking hookah, she’d choose hookah. “I’ve never done it, but they have bars for it and stuff… seems kind of harmless, you know?”
This social acceptance, along with the flavored smoke that isn’t as harsh on your throat and lungs, often leads participants into thinking it’s a milder, and therefore safer, experience.

“I’d assume cigarettes are worse,” said Chealsye Bowley, a junior majoring in English and philosophy. “Cigarette tobacco is held together through preservatives and nasty chemicals.”

Although cigarettes have 599 additives, hookah smoke isn’t completely free of toxins.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hookah fact sheet said that because of the mode of smoking, which includes frequent puffing and deep inhalation during a long session, hookah smokers may even absorb higher concentrations of toxins.

“The idea that the water is filtering out any toxins is a myth,” said Tracey Barnett, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health in the FloridaTrend magazine article. “Cigarettes have filters, too, but we know you can’t filter out all the toxins associated with it.”

There is also a significant threat for a specific toxic gas in hookahs: carbon monoxide.
A 2006 study performed by Katharine Hammond, the chairwoman of the division of environ¬mental health science at the University of California, suggests that an hour of smoking hookah delivers the same amount of carbon monoxide that a pack-a-day cigarette habit would.

The burning charcoal, which sits on top of the tobacco and heats it, is the culprit of these high carbon monoxide emissions.

“You aren’t allowed to barbecue inside with charcoal because the carbon monoxide rate inside your apartment would just go through the roof,” Barnett told FloridaTrend.
In Hammond’s study, it was found that participants smoking hookah exhaled an average of 42 parts of carbon monoxide per million. Cigarette smokers only exhale 17 parts per million.

Not only are those levels harmful to the smoker, they are a serious risk for the nonsmokers sitting with the participants at the social hookah bars.

This social phenomenon is not just facing opposition from health critics. A federal bill, the “Tobacco Tax Parity Act of 2010” (H.R. 4439), was introduced to Congress on Jan. 13, which would raise the tax on pipe tobacco by 775 percent.

A box of hookah tobacco that currently retails for $5.99 would cost more than $20. Hookah bars would have to switch to herbal hookah, which is a nicotine-free product made from tea leaves, or they’d go out of business.

While hookah business owners continue to keep an eye on that bill, hookah fans will continue to enjoy their hookah sessions despite the newfound risks.

Joe Angius, a sophomore majoring in environmental science who moderately smokes hookah, is one of them.

“If you told me that hookah had fiberglass, traces of rat poison and toxic chemicals to get you buzzed, then yes, I’d stop smoking.

From July 16th, 2010

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