Many people believe that smoking tobacco through a waterpipe(shisha or hookah) is much safer than smoking cigarettes. I even know some people who hate cigarettes, yet they love smoking tobacco through a waterpipe, believing it is not hazardous to their health. This bias may be largely due to coming from parts of the world where waterpipe smoking is common, such as the Middle East and south Asia.
I never smoke anything, and I hate smoking, so I am not interested in using myself as a guinea pig to test the hypothesis that waterpipe smoking is as dangerous as cigarette smoking. Besides, this wouldn’t be scientific.
Luckily for us, some brilliant scientists have already looked into this. It took a little digging, but I found a really nice study. In the study “Waterpipe tobacco smoking and cigarette smoking: a direct comparison of toxicant exposure and subjective effects”, which was done at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA:
Relative to a cigarette, waterpipe tobacco smoking was associated with similar peak nicotine exposure, 3.75-fold greater COHb, and 56-fold greater inhaled smoke volume. Waterpipe and cigarette influenced many of the same subjective effect measures. These findings are consistent with the conclusion that waterpipe tobacco smoking presents substantial risk of dependence, disease, and death, and they can be incorporated into prevention interventions that might help deter more adolescents and young adults from experimenting with an almost certainly lethal method of tobacco use.
I never thought it was safer than cigarette smoking, but I had no idea it was this toxic. The smoke volume from waterpipes is astonishing. It’s actually much more hazardous than cigarette smoking, not better. Other studies and news reports refer to the growing popularity of waterpipe smoking as a new “health crisis”. I think that may be a good way to describe this.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter how you smoke it, tobacco smoking kills.