The findings of a new study suggest that smoking a hookah pipes may carry potential health side effects, indicating that it damages blood vessels in the same way as smoking tobacco cigarettes, and exposes users to high levels of toxic carbon monoxide.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) School of Nursing compared smoking charcoal hookah pipes to using electric hookah pipes, as well as smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. They compared health data for 30 young hookah smokers, with an average age of 26.
The study also measured the nicotine levels in their blood before and after smoking charcoal heated hookahs, and levels of exhaled carbon monoxide and blood flow in the blood vessels.
Researchers took the same measurements and compared the data to 20 smokers who used electric heated hookah pipes and to cigarette smokers who smoked traditional cigarettes.
Elevated nicotine levels were seen in all three groups. However, exhaled carbon monoxide levels were elevated by 9 to 10 fold with charcoal heated hookahs. Carbon monoxide is a significantly toxic gas that has no irritating factors that can allow someone to detect its presence.
Both hookah pipes and cigarettes had a negative effect on blood vessels by decreasing blood flow. Carbon monoxide is known to expand blood vessels and can mask the impairment of blood vessel function.
Hookah pipes, also called water pipes, are often labeled as a “safe” alternative to cigarettes. Yet, it is the only form of tobacco that uses charcoal briquettes to heat the flavored tobacco in the water pipe.
Hookah pipes consist of a bowl, a chamber partially filled with water, a hose and mouthpiece extending from the chamber. Users burn charcoal briquettes to heat and then smoke flavored tobacco using the hose and mouthpiece.
When hookah water is heated with charcoal briquettes, users experience an increase in carbon monoxide exposure. This is primarily because it exposes users to charcoal combustion products, which exert large amounts of carbon monoxide.
Both charcoal hookah and electric hookahs expose users to high levels of nicotine and damage blood vessels. However, only charcoal hookahs exposed users to increased levels of carbon monoxide.
The study is scheduled to be presented November 11, at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. The findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.