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January 21, 2016

Research Notes

As cigarette smoking rates fall, more people are smoking tobacco from hookahs, communal pipes that enable users to draw tobacco smoke through water. A meta-analysis led by the School of Medicine shows that hookah smokers are inhaling a large load of toxicants.

The findings, published in Public Health Reports, represent a mathematical summary of previously published data. The researchers reviewed 542 relevant scientific articles and narrowed them down to 17 studies that included sufficient data to extract reliable estimates on toxicants inhaled when smoking cigarettes or hookahs.

They discovered that, compared with a single cigarette, one hookah session delivers approximately 125 times the smoke, 25 times the tar, 2.5 times the nicotine and 10 times the carbon monoxide.

Said lead author Brian A. Primack, assistant vice chancellor for health and society for the Schools of the Health Sciences: “Our results show that hookah tobacco smoking poses real health concerns and that it should be monitored more closely than it is currently.”

The researchers note that comparing a hookah smoking session to smoking a single cigarette is complicated because of the differences in smoking patterns. A frequent cigarette smoker may smoke 20 cigarettes per day, while a frequent hookah smoker may only participate in a few hookah sessions each day.

“It’s not a perfect comparison because people smoke cigarettes and hookahs in very different ways,” said Primack. “So the estimates we found cannot tell us exactly what is ‘worse.’ But what they do suggest is that hookah smokers are exposed to a lot more toxicants than they probably realize.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that, for the first time in history, past 30-day use of hookah tobacco was higher than past 30-day use of cigarettes among U.S. high school students. Additionally, one-third of U.S. college students have smoked tobacco from a hookah; many were not previous users of tobacco.

Additional Pitt authors on this study were Patricia M. Weiss, Ariel Shensa and Steven T. Farley. Colleagues from the Squirrel Hill Health Center, American University of Beirut, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and Virginia Commonwealth University also contributed.

The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

—Compiled by Marty Levine


The University Times Research Notes column reports on funding awarded to Pitt researchers as well as findings arising from University research.

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