After decades of public health campaigns to convince people to stop smoking, a new threat is on the horizon. Teens and young adults, many of whom would never pick up a cigarette, are smoking tobacco from a waterpipe, or hookah.
A study published Thursday in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine is shining a light on this disturbing new trend. The study, the first random sample of U.S. college students to address waterpipe smoking, found that more than 40% of the students said they had hookah smoked and almost 10% had done so in the last 30 days. Slightly fewer students said they had smoked cigarettes.
"We were surprised that the percentage of students who reported ever engaging in waterpipe smoking was actually higher than the percentage of those who have ever smoked cigarettes," said Dr. Brian Primack, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study. "Waterpipe smoking may become even more popular in the near future since many of the new smoke-free ordinances being passed by local governments exempt waterpipe cafes. Waterpipe smoking is going to be a crucial public-health issue that will require increased surveillance and study."
In a story published last November, Los Angeles Times reporter Janet Cromley found many people believe it is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Few studies compare the dangers of cigarette smoking to hookah smoking, but health authorities say hookah smoking is not safe. "Any of the major diseases that are associated with cigarette smoking are associated with hookah pipe smoking," Paul Knepprath, vice president of government relations for the American Lung Assn. of California, told Cromley.
A fact sheet on hookah smoking is available from the Kentucky Health Department.
-- Shari Roan
Photo: Chris Young / AFP / Getty Images