Are hookah pipes more dangerous than cigarettes?

With its hippie look and fruit-flavored tobaccos, the communal water pipe may seem like innocent fun. But some say the hookah is a stealthy killer

Hookah bar
(Image credit: CC BY: Jesse Millan)

Many casual smokers have long considered the hookah pipe a divertingly social, slightly healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes — but the hookah is as risky as, or even worse than so-called cancer sticks, according to a New York Times report. Armed with the latest health studies, legislators from California to Maine are trying to curb or even ban hookah bars, which have become the "newest front in the ever-shifting war on tobacco." Is smoking flavored tobacco through a water pipe really as bad as cigarettes?

Yes, hookahs are deadly: "Several studies have linked hookah use to many of the same diseases associated with cigarette smoking, like lung, oral and bladder cancer, as well as clogged arteries, heart disease and adverse effects during pregnancy," says Douglas Quenqua in The New York Times. Because a hookah session can last for an hour, one smoky interlude can be the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes. Plus, hookahs are typically smoked communally, a practice that has been linked to spreading infectious viruses like herpes and tuberculosis.

"Putting a crimp in the hookah"

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What a buzzkill: This is "kind of depressing," says Cassie Ramsey, a sophomore at Johnson & Wales University, as quoted by The New York Times. I was a "very avid hookah smoker" last summer. At least daily, my friends and I would engage in sessions that could go on for hours. Now, "I only smoke once, maybe twice a month." Bummer!

"Putting a crimp in the hookah"

Well, most people probably won't stop: This is just the latest in a series of "friendly reminders" from the Times about the dangers of hookah pipes, says Erik Hayden at The Atlantic Wire. Since at least 2006, the paper has been publishing articles like this. And — big surprise! — few college students are "heeding the warning." It seems you can briefly lead a kid away from the water pipe, but you can do little to prevent him from turning back around and having a puff.

"The New York Times's long war on water pipes"

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