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Middle Eastern men have smoked hookah pipes for hundreds of years. Now, this form of smoking is becoming popular in the United States, especially among young people. A hookah is a water pipe that holds tobacco. The tobacco is often mixed with honey, molasses, or dried fruit to give flavoring to the smoke. When a person inhales through a hose attached to the hookah, the smoke is filtered through water in the base. Passing the smoke through the water partially filters tar and small particles from the smoke.
Because the pipe filters the tobacco smoke, hookahs are advertised as safer than cigarettes. In fact, hookah smoke contains levels of nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar that are as high or higher than those found in the smoke from many filtered cigarettes. Several types of cancer, as well as gum disease, have been linked to hookah smoking.
Explore other publications and websites
Fact Sheet: Hookahs — This fact sheet provides information and statistics on hookahs, including health effects, estimated usage, and high-risk populations.
Hookah Smoking: Is It Safer Than Smoking Cigarettes? (Copyright © Mayo Foundation) — This publication compares the current research on the safety of smoking hookah pipes and smoking cigarettes and concludes that smoke from a hookah pipe may be just as harmful as cigarette smoke.
Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This publication answers common questions about health and tobacco use. It provides information on the various health effects of smoking, addiction, and the harmful chemicals cigarettes contain.
Reducing Hookah Use: A Public Health Challenge for the 21st Century (Copyright © BACCHUS Network) — This report summarizes the results of surveys and literature reviews about the potential health threat of hookah use among youth and young adults. It addresses the history of hookah use, its increasing popularity, and the associated health risks.
Top Facts: Hookahs (Copyright © The BACCHUS Network) — This fact sheet dispels the myth that hookahs and shisha are a safe alternative to cigarettes.
Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking: Health Effects, Research Needs, and Recommended Actions by Regulators (Copyright © World Health Organization) — This brochure describes what waterpipes are and how they are used, the health effects of smoking with waterpipes, and the regional and global patterns of waterpipe smoking.
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National Cancer Institute, NIH
Office on Smoking and Health, CDC
Smokefree Women, CDC and NCI, NIH, HHS
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Content last updated May 19, 2010.
Resources last updated May 19, 2010.
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