By Tara Haelle
Public health awareness campaigns often focus on reducing cigarette smoking, but other smoking risks exist as well. In addition to cigars, hookahs present health risks too.
A recent study found that nearly one in five high school students has smoked a hookah pipe in the past year.
With hookahs, smoke from burning tobacco or non-tobacco herbs passes through water before the smoke is inhaled.
But it's not harmless: tar, nicotine and high doses of carbon monoxide are still inhaled with hookah smoking.
Use of hookahs is also linked to lung cancer, respiratory illnesses, dental and gum diseases and low birth weights if a woman is pregnant when she smokes.
The study, led by Joseph Palamar, PhD, MPH, of the Department of Population Health at New York University Langone Medical Center, looked at how many teens smoke hookahs.
The researchers analyzed the data from a survey called Monitoring the Future, which interviewed 5,540 high school seniors between 2010 and 2012.
The seniors represented similar demographics for the US and reported whether they had smoked a hookah pipe within the previous year.
Overall, 18 percent of the students reported having smoked hookah in the previous 12 months.
White students were more likely than black students to smoke hookah, and wealthier students were more likely to smoke it than poorer students.
In fact, students in families with higher incomes were about 1.6 times more likely to smoke hookah than lower income students.
In addition, students who earned at least $50 a week from a job were 26 percent more likely to smoke hookah than students not earning outside money.
Even students provided money from other sources — $11 to $50 a week — were about 35 percent more likely to smoke hookah.
"Hookah smoking, unlike cigarette smoking, is a social activity often occurring among those of higher socioeconomic status," the authors wrote.
Although current cigarette smokers were at highest risk for smoking hookah, former cigarette smokers and students who used alcohol, marijuana or other illegal drugs were at particularly high risk for smoking hookah.
The authors suggested that prevention efforts need to be stepped up in reducing hookah use because more teens – especially those of higher socioeconomic status – are using them.
"A common belief among adolescents and young adults is that hookah use is less harmful and addictive than cigarettes," the authors wrote. "This misconception probably leads to the social normalization of hookah use as a trendy and acceptable way to have fun with friends."
This study was published July 7 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not use outside funding, but the data collection had been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.