Hookah Gaining Popularity

by Selam Iyasu on March 28, 2014

Unconventional smoking products such as electronic cigarettes and hookahs are becoming more and more popular among U.S. teens. Also known as water pipes and shisha, hookah originated in the Middle East. Until recently, the typical crowd at hookah bars had been predominantly Middle Eastern and South Asian. This type of smoking often served as an outlet to make up for the fact that they don’t drink alcohol. However, hookah has made its way to the west and manifested into a major social pastime for American teenagers and young adults.

People out on the town in a hookah bar.

People out on the town in a hookah bar.

For those who don’t know, hookahs are water pipes that are used to smoke specially made tobacco that comes in different flavors, such as apple, mint, cherry, chocolate, coconut, licorice, cappuccino, and watermelon. The tobacco is heated by placing charcoal atop the tobacco-filled head, often separated by aluminum foil. When the smoker inhales, the smoke passes through the water pipe body, bubbles through the water in the bowl, and is then carried to the smoker through the hose.

With the growing amount of hookah bars and personally owned hookahs, this has become a regular social experience. Unsurprisingly, many hookah bars are located in close proximity to college campuses. I can probably name about four places within a 5-mile radius of Boston University. Despite the ban on indoor smoking, hookah bars continue to thrive. Some blame hookah bars for promoting the misconception that hookah’s are less harmful than regular cigarettes. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say that hookah is less harmful than smoking a cigarette. I’ve heard “you are not getting most of the bad stuff because it is filtered through the water first”. What does that even mean?

Teenagers often mimic what they see celebrities endorsing or what they see on TV. Drake smokes hookah in his latest music video “Started from the Bottom,” which makes a positive association between hookah and fame. This can have a significant impact on exposing hookah to teens that are fans of these celebrities. In 2012, among high school students, hookah use increased from 4.1 percent in 2011 to 5.4. The reason for this rise is not specifically known, but it could be due to an increase in marketing of hookahs. Another aspect that could be contributing to this rise is the common perception that the products are “safer” than regular cigarettes. This has been tested in a recent study that revealed that the amount of tobacco smoked in one sitting is equivalent to 100 regular cigarettes.

The growing popularity of hookah is a concern in pubic health because it is a negative trend that is developing in our youth that could affect their health. Just like regular cigarettes, using a hookah to smoke tobacco poses serious health risks to smokers and others exposed to the smoke from the hookah. Secondhand smoke from hookahs can be just as serious in the health risk that it causes for nonsmokers. It contains smoke from the tobacco as well as smoke from the heat source (e.g., charcoal) used in the hookah. Furthermore, I think a broad range of measures needs to be taken in order to reverse the accelerating trend of hookah. Efforts need to be taken to stop the glorification of hookahs.








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