As fewer people puff away on cigarettes, a new smoking trend is gaining popularity among young North Americans.
A new survey, published in the journal Pediatrics, confirmed that as many as one-quarter of young people in North America have used a hookah, also known as a water pipe, shisha, narghile or hubble bubble, in the last year. And according to a study in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, hookah prevalence is on the rise worldwide.
Researchers believe the popularity of water pipes may be due in part to the perception that they are safer than cigarettes.
A hookah looks something like a lamp base, with the glass vase at the bottom that is filled with water. The top, called a “bowl” is filled with tobacco. When the tobacco heats up and the smoker sucks in through a connected hose, the tobacco smoke gets drawn down though a stem and pulled underwater before rising into an opening in the hose until it reaches the smoker’s mouth.
"It’s no longer kosher to smoke cigarettes in public," said Jennifer O’Loughlin, a professor at the University of Montreal Dept. of Social and Preventative Medicine and a scientist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center and senior researcher of the Pediatrics study. "However, water pipe smoke contains nicotine, carbon monoxide, carcinogens and may contain greater amounts of tar and heavy metals than cigarette smoke.”
Hookah use is growing in popularity, even in small towns, because the equipment and tobacco are easy to get off the Internet. O’Loughlin said that despite widespread bans on other smoking habits, hookahs and hookah tobacco are largely unregulated throughout North America.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we creating a new epidemic in the face of declining cigarette use?’ ” O’Loughlin said.
O’Loughlin and colleagues used questionnaires to survey 871 young adults, aged 18-24, who anonymously reported on their substance abuse habits. Of these, 201 had used a hookah in the previous year.