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Water Pipe Smoking Increases Risk For Cancer, Study Finds

Update Date: May 16, 2014 09:41 AM EDT

Young adults who smoked water pipes were found to have elevated levels of nicotine, cotinine, tobacco-related cancer-causing agents and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in their urine, according to a new study. 

"This study reports systemic intake of tobacco-specific nitrosamines and VOCs after a typical water pipe-smoking session in a hookah bar setting, thus making the findings generalizable to most water pipe users in the United States," said Gideon St.Helen, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, in the press release.

After a single evening of water pipe smoking in a hookah bar, young men and women had in their urine a 73-fold increase in nicotine; fourfold increase in cotinine; twofold increase in NNAL, a breakdown product of a tobacco-specific nitrosamine, NNK, which can cause lung and pancreatic cancers; and 14 to 91 percent increase in the breakdown products of VOC such as benzene and acrolein that are known to cause cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, the press release added.

"There was also a substantial increase in nicotine levels, which raises concerns about the potential addictiveness of water pipe smoking and possible effects on the developing brains of children and youths who use water pipes," added St.Helen. "Water pipe smoking is generally perceived to be a safe alternative to cigarette smoking, even for children and youths. Our study shows that water pipe use, particularly chronic use, is not risk-free."

Around 55 healthy and experienced water pipe smokers were considered for the study who aged between 18 and 48. Smokers provided "before" and "after" urine samples and detailed information on their smoking sessions. 

Researchers found that the elevated levels of nicotine, cotinine, and NNAL, remained significantly elevated in the next-day urine samples too, compared to "before" samples. Nicotine was observed to be 10.4 fold higher, cotinine 3.2 fold and NNAL was 2.2 fold. 

The study has been published in journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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