New Delhi: Hookahs are generally considered—at least by the aficionados and marketers—to be safer than cigarettes, but a new study by the University of California, Los Angeles published in the American Journal of Cardiology has revealed that even 30 minutes of hookah smoking resulted in the development cardiovascular risk factors comparable to that of cigarette smoking.

The researchers monitored 48 healthy hookah smokers between the ages 18 and 34 for their heart rate, blood pressure, arterial stiffness, blood nicotine, and exhaled carbon monoxide levels before and after 30 minutes of smoking. A single session of hookah smoking elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate by 16 beats per minute. It also increased measures of arterial stiffness, a key risk factor associated with the development of cardiovascular conditions like heart attack and stroke.

The arterial stiffness data was comparable to that seen in cigarette smokers from smoking one cigarette. “Our findings challenge the concept that fruit-flavored hookah tobacco smoking is a healthier tobacco alternative. It is not, said Mary Rezk-Hanna, a lead researcher of the UCLA study.

Hookah smoking is increasingly rising as the cigarette usage declines and the researchers made a note of the growing trend in their report. “We know that flavoured tobacco products are frequently the first kind of tobacco product used by youth," Rezk-Hanna said.

“One of the major issues with hookah is the fact that the tobacco is flavoured with fruit, candy and alcohol flavours, making hookah the most popular flavoured tobacco product among this audience," she added.

Stiffening of arteries and the aorta are important signs of progression of hypertension, which raises the risk of heart attacks, stroke and other cardiovascular disorders.