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Hooked on Hookahs

Parents of college students: Next time you check in on your kid, here's a question to add to your repertoire. After you've asked how her money's holding out, is she getting enough sleep, and how's that psych paper coming along, you might want to inquire "So, honey, have you by any chance taken up smoking with a hookah?"


A hookah?

Apparently lots of college students are using hookahs, or waterpipes, to smoke tobacco. A study in the current issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that of 744 Virginia Commonwealth University students surveyed, 43 percent had used a hookah to smoke tobacco during the past year, and 20 percent had done so during the past month.

Hookah use entails heating tobacco (often sweetened and flavored) with charcoal; the smoke passes through a water chamber that cools it down before the smoker inhales. Apparently it's a social activity: There are hookah cafes near college campuses, and students share hookahs at parties.

The study suggests that misconceptions about the health risks associated with hookah use are rampant among users and non-users alike. Of those who reported using a hookah within the past month, 44 percent thought hookahs were safer than cigarettes, and 58 percent said there was no likelihood of becoming addicted to tobacco if you're using a hookah. Even the kids who didn't use hookahs were way off on this: Almost 60 percent called hookahs safer than cigarettes, and nearly 42 percent said the likelihood of addiction was nil.

Um, wrong and wrong. Both hookah and cigarette smoke contain tar and carbon monoxide, both of which can cause lung cancer and other diseases, and nicotine, the stuff you get addicted to. Hookah use might even be more dangerous, according to the study, because users tend to smoke them longer and take more puffs from them than they would from a cigarette, leading to their inhaling as much as 100 times more smoke.

Here's what a Mayo Clinic pulmonologist has to say on the risks of hookah smoking.

The study's researchers, from Virginia Commonwealth University, suggest that teens and young adults need to be hit over the head (my wording, not theirs) with the message that hookah smoking is bad for their health. Until some public agency can get moving on that, maybe we parents should get the ball rolling.

Think you'll sound silly inquiring about hookahs? Fine. Just send your kid a link to this blog.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 14, 2008; 7:03 AM ET
Categories:  Prevention  
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um, I think the kids may be SAYING that they are smoking regular tobacco, but I doubt that is strictly true. More likely they are smoking weed, which practice has been going on in colleges since, what? the 50s or maybe even before?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 14, 2008 8:03 AM | Report abuse

I suspect that there is, actually, a way in which hookahs are indeed safer -
for other people, by reducing passive smoking, to the degree that passive
smoking is from inhaling what has NOT passed through the lungs of a
smoker. With regard to marijuana, while unfortunately a hookah does not
reduce carcinogens from it, a vaporizer will do so (possibly close to
completely); please see and - I have to wonder if a
similar device would work for harmful components in tobacco smoke other than
nicotine; IIRC, Philip Morris is working on such a "vaporizer cigarette".

Posted by: Allen Smith | May 14, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

If marijuana is illeagle why do 5-people in America get marijuana from the government. Irv Rosenfeld has been getting government grown marijuana for years.
I have to get my marijuana on the streets and maybe get arrested but my government gives marijuana to some people and not others in the land of being equal.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 14, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

ah please "nanny" Jennifer--who cares if college kids smoke hookahs...aren't people dying in China, Myanmar, Congo, Darfur? Isn't global warming a problem? Isn't the economy falling apart as jobs in America are downsized?...etc...if anyone beyond the age of 18 chooses to smoke tobacco or cannabis then let em. If the media wants to look at health concerns it should focus on the industrial use of chemicals spewing into the environment as a whole--chemicals people consume through no individual choice of their own.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Having smoked hookahs fairly often while living in the Middle East, I can tell you that they're as bad as this article says. IMHO it's easier to get addicted to hookah than to cigarettes. The smoke is cool, so it goes down easily and can be held in the lungs, unlike hot, harsh cigarette smoke. The tobacco is often flavored, so it tastes nice. And it's a social activity - it's a fun way to pass the time with your friends (it also goes well with alcohol). But it's basically the same smoke as an unfiltered cigarette. As for the second-hand smoke, well, you're breathing whatever wafts up off the brazier, plus the smoke from the charcoal. The air in a hookah bar can get pretty thick, pretty quick. Final point: if you're not using disposable plastic pipe tips on the hookah pipe, you're sharing a mouthpiece, and are therefore susceptible to whatever diseases your fellow smokers might be carrying.

Posted by: BxNY | May 15, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse

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