Water-pipe smoking may pose the same health risks as cigarettes, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, adding that more scientific research was needed into the link between hookah use and a number of fatal illnesses.
"Using a water pipe to smoke tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking," the UN health agency said in a seven-page document on the practice. "Contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke that emerges from a water pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases."
The WHO "advisory note" warned that using water pipes to consume shisha - a mixture of tobacco, molasses and fruit flavors - usually exposes a person to more smoke over a longer period of time than do cigarettes. Preliminary research indicates that hookah smoking poses many of the same dangers as cigarettes and may involve "some unique health risks," the agency said.
The hookah, used for centuries in North Africa, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, has become increasingly popular in the United States, Europe and Brazil, particularly among college students and young adults.