Hookah can be as dangerous as cigarettes
Wherever a hookah bar pops up, it’s probably the trendiest neighborhood in town. But this new “It” form of smoking, where a water pipe is used to inhale tobacco, can be as dangerous and addictive as cigarettes, according to Florida International University researcher Dr. Wasim Maziak .
In a laboratory experiment, Maziak, the chair of epidemiology at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, discovered that water pipe smokers showed craving and withdrawal symptoms that subsided when they picked up a hookah.
Other studies conducted in his lab showed that the levels of carbon monoxide inhaled during a typical hour-long hookah session can be equivalent to smoking more than 100 cigarettes —and is possibly just as addictive.
“Given that carbon monoxide is one of the major cardiovascular risk factors, this evidence points to one of water pipe’s health hazards,” Maziak said.
Equally concerning to Maziak is the increasing popularity of hookah among high school and college students. Hookah use is rising “at an alarming rate” among teenagers, Maziak said, and has become the second most popular form of smoking among college students.
“This is incredibly disturbing from public health perspective,” said Maziak, who was one of the first researchers to raise the alarm about nicotine addiction in water pipe smokers. “Even with the trendiness aspect, we are shocked by the spread of water pipe. It truly is an epidemic.”
Maziak is calling attention to this issue as Miami-Dade County commissioners approved an ordinance that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. Currently, the proposed ordinance would not include flavored hookah tobacco.
But Maziak notes that the vast majority of tobacco used in hookahs nowadays is flavored tobacco —strawberry, apple, peach, caramel, chocolate, coffee—which could be a major factor behind hookah’s huge popularity among young customers.
Statistics from the 2011 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Florida Department of Health showed that almost one-fifth of all high school students—and four percent of middle school students—had smoked a hookah. Data suggests an upward trend over the past five years.
“People think it’s somehow safer than cigarettes because its smoke is filtered through water, but available evidence does not support this belief,” Maziak said.