Safety of slim cigarettes and hookah: Just smoke and mirrors

The results of two recent surveys conclude the same thing: people have many misconceptions about the risks associated with hookah smokingsmoking.

In the first poll, data from an Internet-based survey of a random sample of 3,770 students attending eight North Carolina universities, lead study researcher Erin L. Sutfin, assistant professor in the social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, found that 40.3 percent of students reported having ever smoked tobacco from a hookah, while 17.4 percent admitted they were current hookah users. More importantly, however, the students in general were under the false impression that smoking from a hookah was safer than cigarette smoking. The authors reported their findings in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

In the second study, published in the journal Addiction, researchers found that about one-fifth of the 800 smokers polled in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. falsely believed that “some cigarette brands could be less harmful than others.” These notions were most common among U.S. smokers, who were also found to think that cigarette pack colors denote their level of harm, such that “gold” or “white” brands are less harmful to smoke than “black” or “red” brands.

But that’s not all. Study participants also reported beliefs including: slim cigarettes and smooth-tasting cigarettes are safer; filters lower the risks associated with smoking; and nicotine is responsible for smoking-related cancers — all of which are false.

“For whatever reason, people incorrectly assume that inhaling some forms of tobacco or using a different delivery system is safer than traditional methods of smoking. But in fact, it’s inhaling the end products of combustion — the smoke — that causes the adverse health effects. Whether it’s a hookah or a cigarette, each one produces toxic combustion products,” explains ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Public health authorities should make a more concerted effort to tell smokers that inhaled smoke is bad no matter what.”

As for whether nicotine causes cancer, Dr. Ross responds emphatically, “No! Nicotine has nothing to do with cancer or any other adverse health effects. Though it is the addictive component to smoking, it’s not a health threat per se.”

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