Washington, D.C. -- The growing fad of smoking tobacco through a waterpipe, sometimes known as a hookah, is rapidly turning into a worrisome epidemic, according to a Georgetown University researcher who says smokers who think this form of tobacco use is less toxic than cigarettes are wrong.
"People who use these devices don't realize that they could be inhaling what is believed to be the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in one typical 30-60 minute session with a waterpipe, because such a large quantity of pure, shredded tobacco is used," said Christopher Loffredo, Ph.D., Director of the Cancer Genetics and Epidemiology program at Georgetown University Medical Center.
His series of recently published studies documents the trend toward waterpipe tobacco smoking, showing how it has swept through the Middle East and is gaining popularity in the West, and demonstrates that the amount of cellular chromosomal damage produced inside the mouth is the same as that seen in cigarette smoking.
Yet waterpipe cafes or bars have been popping up all over the Eastern Mediterranean region over the past decade, Loffredo said. "In Egypt, we've seen boys starting to smoke the waterpipe at age 12, and young women, who are culturally discouraged from smoking cigarettes, are flocking to it," said Loffredo, who has been studying tobacco use in that country since 1997.
The trend has now hit European and American cities, especially college towns. "This is frightening because it is a gateway toward a lifetime use of tobacco, including cigarettes," he said.
Waterpipes were originally developed to smoke hashish and other substances, but were long ago adapted into a method to smoke tobacco. Use of the device is common throughout the Middle East, where it is goes by a number of different names - shisha in Egypt, hookah in Pakistan and India, and narghile in a number of countries from Turkey to Israel - but has historically been "a habit of o
Contact: Becky Wexler
Georgetown University Medical Center