Teens Swap Cigs for Hookah Pipes

While the rate of teen cigarette use has continued to decline over the last 20 years, health advocates are concerned that rather than giving up the tobacco altogether, teens are simply shifting towards alternative forms of smoking. A study published in Pediatrics Journal in July this year emphasizes the movement of teens away from cigarettes towards hookah (also knows as shisha or argileh), a communal water pipe that originated in the Middle East and South Asia.

Interestingly, demographic traits associated with higher rates of cigarette smoking were associated with lower rates of hookah usage. Authors of the study notes,

Well-known risk factors for cigarette use among adolescents, such as lower socioeconomic status and lower parental education, unexpectedly were associated with lower rates of hookah use.”

Authors further suggest this is likely linked to the cost of going out to smoke,

Given the cost of frequenting hookah bars, it is not surprising that wealthier students, as indicated by higher weekly income, are more regular visitors, although it remains unknown what proportion of hookah use occurs in hookah bars versus in homes or other noncommercial settings.”

As the device has become popular in suburban neighborhoods and college campuses, many still don’t realize the device carries many of the similar risks associated with smoking cigarettes. Not only does the water pipe have tobacco carcinogens, but also has the added risk of dangerous levels of benzene produced from the charcoal used in the pipe.

Another study conducted by scientists at San Diego State University revealed that daily hookah smokers had six-times as much benzene byproduct in their urine than that of nonsmokers. The study reports 18 percent of high school seniors had smoked hookah within a 12-month period. The survey included 5,540 students. Following an evening of consistent smoking, some hookah enthusiasts have ten-times as much. Furthermore, even those present but not participating had benzene byproduct levels higher than the average nonsmoker.

Nada O.F. Kassem, associate director of SDSU behavioral epidemiology center states,

There are more than 300 flavors, like apple, vanilla, mint… They make it smell nice so people think it’s not harmful, but it’s carcinogenic.”

Despite the risk, many don’t consider the health concerns of hookah, due in part to the sweet flavorings masking the traditional smokiness (and associated risk) of tobacco. Benzene is linked to leukemia and suspected to be linked to other types of cancer.


Read more here- “Hookah, as Health Risk, Still Qualifies as Smoking,” (Donald G. McNeil Jr, The New York Times)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.


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