Turns Out Smoking Hookah Will Kill You After All

One shisha equals about 10 to 40 cigarettes, scientists claim.

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Jul 16 2014, 9:31pm

For a while I used to smoke hookah with my friends on a fairly regular basis. You know, those Middle Eastern waterpipes that make merry little bubbling noises when you inhale. The smoke, which emerges from your face in beautiful thick white plumes like cotton balls, is cooled and filtered by the water, resulting in a much more mellow and less dangerous smoking experience. At least, that's what I always thought. The reality is different.

According to a new report from the Dutch drug research institute Trimbos, 1 in 10 adolescents in the Netherlands occasionally smokes hookah. Many of them seem to think smoking a water pipe is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

But science wouldn't be science if it didn't barge in on the party at this point to take a piss. The Trimbos report lists several sources that claim a hookah may not be less harmful than cigarettes at all. Recent research from the National Institute of Health confirmed that. Indeed some studies suggest it's is in fact far worse than smoking cigarettes. According to a 2007 study by the American Lung Organization, a single hookah-session equals about a hundred cigarettes in terms of smoke intake.

Why? Because smoking a cigarette usually lasts about five minutes at most, while smoking a hookah often means pumping smoke through your body for up to an hour.

The levels of harmful substances in hookah smoke also appear to be far higher than your average cigarette (although of course one might light more than one cig in the hour that it takes to smoke a hookah). An NIH study found 1.7 times more nicotine, 6.5 times more carbon and 46.4 time more tar than in a cigarette. And if that wasn't enough, the charcoal that is used to light the tobacco releases heavy metals, toxic chemicals and dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide.

Smoking the candy-colored, fairytale-scented miracle machine pictured above is like lighting a giant doomsday cigarette pumping an hour's worth of drama into your body.

So I'm sorry, dear aficionados of Eastern smoking accouterments, but smoking a hookah may be just as bad as smoking 10 or so cigs, perhaps even more. Although the merrily bubbling water may sound nice, it seems to add little to nothing in the way of filtration. And to make matters even worse, the Trimbos Institute also reports that passing the pipe carries significant risk of transmitting all kinds of fun diseases. Oh, and everyone has herpes. Have a nice day.