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Hookah Smoke Kills Lung Cells, The Surprising Reason

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Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services
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UC graduate student Ryan Saadawi finds hookah tobacco heated electronically kills 70 percent more lung cells than traditional charcoal.

An ancient practice of southeast Asia is gaining popularity among college and high school students in the United States. While cigarette smoking is on the decline, Hookah bars and cafes are proliferating around college campuses. In a hookah water pipe, tobacco is mixed with glycerin and flavorings then heated.

Many hookah smokers believe the practice is less harmful than cigarette smoking. University of Cincinnati Department of Chemistry graduate student Ryan Saadawi wondered if that was the case. Saadawi conducted experiments to determine the toxicity levels of charcoal briquettes traditionally used to burn the tobacco. The results are surprising. Charcoal killed anywhere from 10 – 25 percent of lung cells. But a newer method, which electronically heats a ceramic disk called "e-coal," killed far more lung cells.

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Credit Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services
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Electronic charcoal consistently burned at a higher temperature, possibly releasing more toxins in the tobacco smoke.

Here to discuss the study and the risks associated with hookah smoking is PhD candidate at UC, Ryan Saadawi.