Hookah increasingly popular among young Americans

Wed Apr 6, 2011 3:52pm EDT
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By Ned Barnett

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters Life!) - Young Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes, but researchers say that progress is threatened by an increasingly popular cultural import -- the tall, ornate water pipe known as the hookah.

What started as a fad for smoking exotic and flavor-soaked tobacco in hookah bars is showing worrisome staying power, according to a study released by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"This may serve as a starter product for other tobacco uses," said Erin L. Sutfin, an assistant professor and lead author of the study.

Sutfin said she and fellow researchers carried out the research because little has been done to assess the prevalence of hookah smoking and what perceptions, or misperceptions, feed its popularity.

"Unfortunately, many young adults are misinformed about the safety of hookah smoking, and some mistakenly believe it to be safer than cigarette smoking," she said.

The study results were drawn from an Internet survey of 3,770 students at eight North Carolina colleges and universities.

The researchers found that 40 percent of the students - more than one-third of those surveyed - reported having smoked tobacco from a hookah, while nearly 47 percent reported having smoked a cigarette.

Sutfin said 22 percent of the students who said they were hookah smokers had never smoked a cigarette, indicating that successful efforts to discourage one health threat could be getting undermined by another.   Continued...

<p>A man sunbathes as he smokes a waterpipe at a public beach in Beirut, December 2,2010. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi</p>