About one in four female college freshmen will try smoking hookah, according to a new study published in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
That number accounts for first-time users only, and doesn’t include those who tried hookah before college.
The popularity of hookah smoking worldwide and in the United States has been rising over the last 20 years, especially among college students.
Hookah smoking is a social experience. In a hookah bar, people smoke tobacco that is cooled and dispensed through a water pipe, often enhanced with flavors such as mint, chocolate, vanilla or cherry.
A group of people typically pass around a shared mouthpiece. Some lounges offer disposable mouthpieces for better hygiene.
Hookah tends to attract a “starter” crowd, and health experts say this group may go on to use other tobacco products.
The study followed 343 first-year female college students who had no experience with hookah before college.
Twenty-three percent of that group later reported they experimented with hookah as freshmen.
The rates of those who have tried it “are now almost as high as regular rates of cigarette smoking among college students,” said lead author, Robyn L. Fielder, M.S.
“The popularity and social nature of hookah smoking, combined with the fact that college freshmen are more likely to experiment with risky behavior, could set the stage for a potential public health issue, given what we know about the health risks of hookah smoking,” says Fielder.
However, she adds that many young women who experiment with hookah do not become regular users.
Many hookah smokers consider the practice less harmful than smoking cigarettes, according to a study by the American Lung Association.
“This is troubling from a public health perspective,” the American Lung Association says in a briefing. Evidence shows that hookah smoking carries many of the same risks as cigarette smoking and has been linked to many of the same diseases as cigarette smoking.
Water pipe smoking delivers nicotine, the addictive drug found in cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), water pipe smoke is as toxic as cigarette smoke.