Decades before Miley Cyrus revealed to college-age women everywhere that the hookah, or water pipe, is the latest must-have accessory, I found one prominently placed in my childhood home. I was 15 and had just returned from a summer at sleepaway camp. In my absence, my parents had traveled to Turkey, where they purchased said hookah and displayed it proudly in our home's lower level, not far from the billiard table. I suppose they thought it was a cool visual -- I honestly don't believe it was ever used for anything other than viewing.
Fast forward 30 years and now it's me, my husband and our children walking the streets of Istanbul. Hookahs are sold and smoked everywhere -- as a matter of fact, it's not a strange sight to see people of all ages smoking the tobacco (much of it is flavored -- pineapple? Vanilla, anyone?) from a hookah while playing chess in outdoor cafes.
It never occurred to me to smoke from a hookah, and I never imagined my kids would want to-or even have the opportunity. But obviously, I wasn't keeping up with the times. According to new research from the Miriam Hospital's Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, nearly 25 percent of college women try smoking tobacco from a hookah for the first time during their freshman year. Did I mention my daughter just finished her first year of college?
The study, which was published online by the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors journal, revealed a potential link between hookah smoking and alcohol and marijuana use. An article from Science Daily reported that "researchers found the more alcohol women consumed, the more likely they were to experiment with hookah smoking, while women who used marijuana engaged in hookah smoking more frequently than their peers."
The problem is that many college students believe mistakenly that smoking from a hookah is safer than cigarettes. Hookahs, however, have been linked to lung cancer and other diseases similar to those brought on by cigarette smoking.
"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 issues, given what we know about the health risks of hookah smoking," said lead author Robyn L. Fielder, M.S., a research intern at The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, to Science Daily. Fielder says the findings corroborate prior research showing strong correlations between hookah and other substance use, but their research is the first to show that alcohol and marijuana use are prospectively related to hookah initiation.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), consisted of a survey of 483 first-year female college students and asked about their hookah use before college, followed by 12 monthly online surveys about their experience with hookah smoking. Of the 343 participants who did not report precollege hookah use, 79 students (or 23 percent) tried smoking a hookah during their freshman year.
As a parent, the concern is naturally that your kid is going to try this or that because that's what other kids are trying. Hookah smoking seems a lot more enticing, I imagine, to many students who see cigarettes as outdated -- and practically verboten in every public place, anyway. But if they do a little research, they'll learn that hookah smoking is not exactly a new phenomenon and originated in ancient Persia and India.
I have not asked my daughter yet if she's come across any hookah-smoking parties at school. But with this new research, I'm inclined to ask. I'm not sure I'll bring her to my parents' house anytime soon, however, for fear that she'll see their imported hookah and ask if she can bring it back to school for her sophomore year.
Follow Caren Osten Gerszberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@carenosten