Many people who use a hookah to smoke tobacco think it is a safer way to smoke and that they are reducing their risk. Not so. A new study suggests that using a hookah is associated with serious conditions of the mouth, head, and neck.
Researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey analyzed 20 published studies that focused on the use of a hookah or water pipe. Ten of the articles pertained to the problems in the mouth, seven to head and neck cancer, and three to problems with the larynx and middle ear.
They found that using a hookah is associated with greater amounts of inflammation, gum diseases, a dental condition called dry socket, premalignant lesions, oral cancer, and cancer of the head, neck, and esophagus. It was also associated with a greater incidence of oral infections by the organism Candida, with swelling of the vocal cords, and a lower vocal pitch.
The number of people who use a hookah or water pipe-also called an argilah or hubbly-bubbly-has risen worldwide in the past few years. To use these devices, people place tobacco into a bowl on the top of the pipe and light it. The tobacco smoke is passed through a container of water before it is inhaled. Often, the tobacco used in a hookah is heavily flavored with sweeteners such as molasses or honey and other favors.
According to the World Health Organization, a typical session of smoking using a hookah lasts up to an hour, during which a smoker inhales 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke inhaled from one cigarette. Despite this, many people believe that filtering the smoke through water somehow makes it less harmful than cigarettes.
The study appeared in the Journal of the American Dental Association. "This study sheds light on the common misconception that smoking from a water pipe is somehow safer than smoking a cigarette," said journal editor Michael Glick, DMD in a statement. "Whether you are smoking a cigarette, an e-cigarette, a cigar, or tobacco from a water pipe, smoking is dangerous not only to your oral health but to your overall health."