Washing the smoke doesn’t make it safe, researchers report

A few of those hookahs that are on sale at malls and specialty shops in Costa Rica might even be used for smoking tobacco.

That would be a bad idea, according to a new report.

Smoking tobacco through a hookah is a pastime gaining popularity among the college crowd, but many mistakenly believe that using the fragrant water pipe is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco.

The researchers measure the chemicals in the blood and other body fluids and concluded that hookah smoke contains a different but still harmful mix of toxins, said the university. The findings are published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The hookah, a Middle Eastern device, draws the smoke from a burning substance through water or wine. Users inhale the smoke via an individual flexible tube. More than one person can partake at the same time.

Glass bowl hookahs are preferred because some smokers claim that metal containers impart a metallic taste to the smoke.

Probably the bulk of hookahs sold in Costa Rica are used for smoking something other than tobacco. And that has some health risks. too.

“People want to know if it is a lesser health risk if they switch from cigarettes to smoking a water pipe on a daily basis,”  said Peyton Jacob II, a university of San Francisco research chemist. “We found that water-pipe smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking, nor is it likely to be an effective harm-reduction strategy.” He was quoted in a university release.

And compared to non-smokers, according to his colleague Neal Benowitz, “If you are smoking from a hookah daily, you are likely to be at increased risk for cancer.”

A 2009 survey found that three in 10 university students had smoked tobacco from a water pipe on at least one occasion.

Despite tougher restrictions on smoking, the devices are on sale in every mall in the Central Valley, purportedly for tobacco.

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