Smoking Hookah May Be Worse Than Cigarettes

Research Shows Hookah Session Can Equal 10-40 Cigarettes

ORLANDO, Fla. --

It's become all the rage with University of Central Florida college students, but smoking a hookah may be more hazardous than cigarettes .

Most of them think smoking a hookah is much less of a threat to their health than smoking cigarettes, but the research is alarming. It turns out hookah smoking may be much worse.

On a recent Tuesday night at Natura Coffee and Tea near UCF, the shop was filled with college students who'd come to smoke hookah.

Assistant manager Mary Mobarak prepares the hookahs. The base is filled with water. A stem connects it to a bowl that holds a sticky lump of shredded, sweetened tobacco called shisha. Foil goes over the tobacco.

"You poke holes in it because that's how the smoke actually gets through once the coal goes on," Mobarak said.

The hot coal goes on top of the foil. When a smoker sucks on an attached hose, it pulls air past the coal, which heats the tobacco and creates the smoke that's deeply inhaled after it bubbles through the water.

"It's very smooth, and it tastes great. It's almost like a candy, a sweet taste," hookah smoker Justin Pyle said.

Smokers said unlike cigarettes, hookah's sweet taste and smell are a big part of its appeal. It's also a social event.

"It's definitely a conversation starter. It's a social tool. I would relate it almost to alcohol minus the negative effect," hookah smoker John Lund said.

The majority of hookah smokers said that they're convinced it is much safer than smoking a cigarette, but the research paints a different picture.

Studies estimate one hookah session can be the equivalent of smoking from 10 to 40 cigarettes. Dr. Richard Hurt of the Mayo Clinic said that's because of the long duration of a hookah session.

"When you smoke a cigarette, a person smokes it maybe for just a few minutes and then you're through with it. But hookah sessions are social and people sit there for an hour or so kind of puffing on these things, thinking that the water is filtering out all the bad stuff, when the reality is it does not do that," Hurt said.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health reports a single hookah session delivers 1.7 times the nicotine, 6.5 times the carbon monoxide and 46.4 times the tar of a single cigarette.

Despite that hard scientific data, every hookah smoker WESH 2 talked to believes that hookah smoking is less harmful than cigarettes.

"Personally, I believe it's better because you're not actually igniting the tobacco. You're steaming it, so you're pretty much getting fog with flavor," Lund said.

While confusion about the health risks of hookah intensifies, the number of hookah lounges in Central Florida has grown to over a dozen.

Since customers only have to be 18 to smoke hookah, they're all the rage with the college crowd. The Orlando chapter of the American Lung Association is alarmed.

"The American Lung Association of the Florida Central Area covers 10 counties and we're seeing it pop up everywhere so it's not an emerging trend, it's a trend that's here to stay," Bryan Beyer of the American Lung Association said.