March 8 (UPI) -- People who look to hookah as a safer alternative to cigarettes may be disappointed by recent findings about the popular inhalant.
A person who smokes hookah for 30 minutes or longer will take in more toxic chemicals than smoking cigarettes for the same length of time, according to a study published Friday in Circulation. The chemicals can damage the heart and blood vessels.
"Hookah smoke contains harmful substances and the American Heart Association strongly recommends avoiding the use of tobacco in any form," said Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the University of Louisville Diabetes and Obesity Center and study author, in a news release.
Hookah is tobacco smoked in a waterpipe, and the smoke contains pollutants like arsenic, air pollutants, nicotine, particulate matter, volatile organic chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, acrolein, lead and cadmium. All of those substances can be potentially harmful to the cardiovascular system.
Nearly 14 percent of American adults between ages 18 and 24 have reported using hookah, according to the study. That group makes up 55 percent of all hookah users in the United States. Also, close to 5 percent of high school students have reported using hookah.
Many young people are drawn to hookah due to its colorful packaging. It also comes in different fruit and candy flavorings, which help mask the harshness of the smoke.
Unlike cigarette tobacco, hookah tobacco, often colorfully packaged, can be sold in candy and fruit flavors, which appeal to younger audiences. The flavors and sweeteners added to the tobacco mask the harshness of smoke, making it easier to start and continue smoking hookahs.
And smoking hookah increases the chances that a person will begin smoking cigarettes.
This adds to mounting evidence that already exists linking hookah smoke to cardiovascular risk.
Other tobacco cigarette alternatives, like e-cigarettes, have been reported to raise the risk of not only heart attacks but also stroke and depression.
"Many young people mistakenly believe that smoking tobacco from a hookah is less harmful than cigarette smoking because the tobacco is filtered through water, but there is no scientific evidence that supports that claim. However, there is evidence to suggest that hookah smoking is addictive and can lead to the use of other tobacco products such as cigarettes," Bhatnagar said.