New data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month reveals troubling information about the views and use of hookah by college students.
The study, conducted using 500 University of Florida students, shows that 54.4% of college students have smoked hookah during their lifetime, with 16.3% having used it within the past 30 days.
More concerning, however, are the responses when the students are asked about their perceptions of hookah. Fifty percent report that they believed hookah smoking is less dangerous than cigarette smoking and 25.6% indicate that they are either unsure of hookah’s harmfulness or believe it harmless. Their beliefs are founded upon their own judgment (70.3%), friends (25.9%), or the Internet (22.4%).
Hookah smoking is a method of inhaling tobacco involving a waterpipe. A bowl at the top of the device is filled with tobacco and connected to the base of the pipe, which is filled with water. Perforated material covers the bowl and burning charcoal is placed on top. Inhaling pulls the smoke down the pipe from the charcoal and through the tobacco. It bubbles through the water, which cools it, and then is pulled through the hose into the user’s mouth.
As the study reflects, it is a common belief that hookah is less dangerous than cigarette smoking, a misconception that has been disproved by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its report that hookah smoke “contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other diseases.”
“The tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe,” states the Mayo Clinic, “and the water in the hookah does not filter out the toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke.”
The smoke inhaled during a hookah session contains heavy metals, carcinogens, and carbon monoxide, as well as increases the heart rate and blood pressure of the smoker. It has been linked to oral, stomach, and lung cancers, heart disease, reduced lung function, and decreased fertility.
These risks, common to cigarette smokers, may be multiplied in those that prefer hookah. “Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers do because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session,” continues the Mayo Clinic report. WHO estimates that the amount of smoke inhaled in an hour-long hookah session is equivalent to the amount of smoke inhaled from 100 cigarettes.
With cigarette smoking at a new low, the popularity of hookah smoking can be attributed to ignorance. When informed of the risks of hookah smoking, many Boston College students react incredulously, then with suspicion. As indicated by the study, most simply do not understand that the dangers of hookah smoking are the same as those of cigarettes.
“Isn’t it just water vapor?” asks Shannon Lane, A&S ’18.
“I had no idea,” says Maggie Rogers, A&S ’16. “I was always under the impression that hookah was a gentler alternative to cigarettes.”
The realization of how harmful hookah could be did work as a deterrent to some, such as Mary Clare Condon, A&S ’18. “That scares me away from trying it,” she said.
“I’ve never actually done hookah because I had somewhat of an idea that it’s unhealthy, but I definitely didn’t know how detrimental [it is],” says Sophia Breggia, A&S ‘17. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like a lot of high school and college-aged students don’t realize what they’re doing when they smoke hookah. There’s something of like less than 10% of teenagers smoke cigarettes today, but I’d bet money that they have done an hour-long hookah session without realizing how much worse it is.”