Hookah smoking popular with the college crowd
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A sizable percentage of college students have tried smoking waterpipes, often under the false impression that they offer a "safer" way to smoke, a new study suggests.
In a survey of 744 freshmen at one Virginia university, researchers found that half had ever tried smoking a waterpipe, with 20 percent saying they'd used one in the past month.]
Waterpipes, or hookahs, have long been used for smoking tobacco in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, and "hookah lounges" are increasingly popping up in the U.S.
The pipes consist of a long tube attached to a glass or plastic container that holds water in its base. The tobacco, which is flavored with fruits and sugar syrup, is burnt using charcoal. Because the smoke passes through the water before the smoker inhales it, water pipes are often seen as a way to filter out the harmful substances in tobacco smoke.
However, waterpipe smoke contains the same toxins as cigarette smoke does. And past studies have shown that hookah smoking can increase the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as impair lung function.
The new findings, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, suggest that many college students may be in the dark about those risks. "These results should serve as an alarm bell to anyone interested in public health in the United States," lead researcher Dr. Thomas Eissenberg, of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said in a statement.
Of the college students his team surveyed, 48 percent said they had ever used a waterpipe to smoke tobacco, while 20 percent said they had done so in the past month.
Students in this latter group were far less likely than their peers to believe that hookah smoking was as harmful as cigarette smoking, the researchers found.
The misperception that hookahs are more "natural" and safer than cigarettes may be driving their rise in popularity, according to Eissenberg.
"The data we report, along with data from other schools, show that waterpipe tobacco smoking is common on college campuses across the country," he said.
"Thus, prevention messages, especially those that communicate the potential risks of waterpipe tobacco smoking, should focus on college campuses."
SOURCE: Journal of Adolescent Health, May 2008.