Smoking a "hookah" may be less harmful than a cigarette as it contains lower levels of four toxic metals, claims a new international study released here Monday. A team of scientists, headed by Joseph Caruso of American Chemical Society and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, conducted the study on 12 different varieties of hookah tobacco manufactured in the US and Middle East and broke it down to liquid form. "The test results revealed that hookah tobacco contained fewer toxic metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium and chromium as compared to cigarette tobacco," a spokesperson said. The outcome of the research was presented to the American Chemical Society (ACS) at its recent meeting, the spokesperson added. Unlike popular belief that the difference could be due to filtering smoke through water, the research team's finding points to the composition of the hookah shisha itself. The tobacco for hookah contains molasses, honey and flavouring agents which have lower levels of toxic metals. The researchers did not detect excess amounts of the toxic metals even in the hookah water. A growing fad among urban youth, hookah parlours have been banned in several Indian states, including Maharashtra. Hookah comprises a narghile, shisha and goza which is a water pipe with a smoke chamber, a bowl, a pipe and a hose. Specially made hookah tobacco is heated in the bowl and smoke passes through water and is then drawn through a rubber by the smoker. "The new study reiterates that hookah smoke is a less harmful option compared to cigarette smoking. But I would emphasise more on herbal hookahs which are free of tobacco or nicotine as the best alternative," said Shireen Parker, vice-president of Arabian Nights, a leading exotic lifestyle store in Mumbai.She said that Arabian Nights has launched a range of herbal hookahs which have become very popular among the youth and health conscious young professionals.