July 7, 2014
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Affluent Teens More Likely to Use Hookah
Nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors has smoked tobacco through a hookah, or water pipe, a new survey finds. Cigarette smokers and those with more spending money were more likely to use a hookah than other teens. Researchers used data from a national poll of more than 5,500 U.S. high school seniors. It was taken between 2010 and 2012. About 18% said they had used a hookah in the last year. With a hookah, smoke bubbles up through water. People usually smoke in bars or in other group settings, taking turns. About half of regular cigarette smokers had used a hookah, compared with 6% of those who had never smoked. Teens who had used marijuana or alcohol were 3 to 4 times as likely to use a hookah as non-users. Nearly 23% of those who earned at least $51 a week in a job had used a hookah, compared with 14% of those with lower earnings. Males, whites, Hispanics and city residents were more likely to smoke hookah than females, blacks or rural teens. Hookah use also was more common for teens with more educated parents. The journal Pediatrics published the study. HealthDay News wrote about it July 7.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
If you are the parent of a high school student, it's time to talk to them about hookahs.
Why? Because according to a study just released in the journal Pediatrics, 18% of high school seniors have smoked them.
A hookah is a water pipe that is used to smoke a specially made tobacco. The tobacco is often flavored, with flavors such as mint or licorice. Hookahs come in all shapes and sizes. There are even some electronic versions. Usually, a group of people smokes a hookah together, inhaling smoke from the mouthpiece and passing it from person to person.
Smoking hookahs is an ancient practice, begun centuries ago in Persia and Asia. Perhaps because it is so ancient, many youth and young adults think that it isn't as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. But it is actually just as dangerous, if not more so.
The smoke you inhale from a hookah is just as full of toxins and cancer-causing chemicals as the smoke from a cigarette. It carries all the same health risks as smoking cigarettes. It also contains nicotine, the chemical that causes addiction to cigarettes.
What makes it possibly more dangerous is the way it is smoked. It takes an average of 20 puffs to smoke a cigarette. But in smoking a hookah with other people over an hour, you can take 200 puffs. That's a whole lot more toxins inhaled.
According to the study, youth who smoke tobacco or use alcohol or other drugs are more likely to smoke hookahs. That's not surprising. What was a little surprising was that the youth who smoke hookahs, unlike those who use other forms of tobacco, are more likely to have parents with more education and income.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
The most important thing we all can do is educate ourselves and others about the health risks of smoking hookahs. That's why parents need to talk to their children, teachers need to talk to their students and coaches need to talk to their athletes. Anyone who interacts with young people should find out what they know about hookahs, and whether they are smoking them.
We need to talk to youth about the risks, such as cancer of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and lungs. Talk to them about how they can end up with even higher risks of these terrible diseases than with other forms of tobacco. Overall, fewer youth are smoking these days. So putting it in these terms may help them see hookah smoking differently.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Youth will always take risks and try things that aren't healthy for them. It's our job as caring adults to do everything we can to reduce the risks, and keep them as healthy and safe as we can. Talking about hookahs is another way to do that.