County's teen rate of hookah smoking may be rising

City News Service

Tobacco smoking via hookahs might be on the increase among local teenagers, according to a survey at three San Diego County high schools that was released Tuesday.

Hookahs are water pipes. In many Middle Eastern countries, mixtures of

tobacco and fruit, or other flavorings, are smoked through them.

The study by the UCSD Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and San Diego State University looked at 689 students from high schools that were not identified.

About 26 percent of the participants said they have tried hookah, 11 percent having used it in the last month — the same percentage to have smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to the survey.

"Our study suggests that hookah smoking is taking hold in some high school-aged students at a rate higher than previously reported, which is rather alarming as an emerging public health problem,'' said Wael Al-Delaimy, an associate professor at UCSD and an expert in tobacco control. "Our data show that inaccurate perception about hookah harmfulness, its social acceptability, and presence of hookah lounges in residential areas, is driving the higher use among the teens in our study."

Al-Delaimy said smoking with a hookah is potentially more dangerous than cigarettes, because they are generally smoke for longer periods and smokers inhale more smoke. It is associated with heart disease and cancers of the lungs, mouth and bladder.

Joshua Smith, who assisted in the survey, said teens believe hookah use is more socially acceptable than cigarettes, and believe it to be less harmful than cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco.

A little over half learned about hookah from friends, and 21 percent discovered it when they saw a hookah lounge, Smith said.

The researchers, whose article appeared in the April edition of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, said policy makers need to reconsider the legality of hookah lounges and address what they believe to be a growing epidemic of use among youth.

   
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