Young People Underestimate the Dangers of Hookah

A new study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing finds that despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that hookah smoking can be just as dangerous as cigarettes, many young adults believe that using the water pipes is not harmful. “With hookah smoking on the rise, particularly among young adults, our goal was to identify factors influencing perceptions, attitudes and preferences toward hookah smoking,” said Mary Rezk-Hanna, a UCLA nursing doctoral student and lead researcher of the study.

The researchers visited three Southern California hookah lounges and asked patrons between the ages of 18 and 30 whether they thought hookah smoking was harmful to their health. Close to 60 percent said no. When asked why, 47 percent of the participants said they believed that the smoke gets filtered through water, 35 percent said they thought that fruit used to flavor the tobacco detoxify harmful chemicals in tobacco and 16 percent said they assumed the tobacco used in hookahs is not addictive and does not contain nicotine.

Those assumptions are not correct according to the researchers, who say they chose hookah use for their research because other studies have shown that the practice is increasing especially among college students. In California alone, according to the researchers, there are more than 2,000 shops that sell hookah tobacco and related products, in addition to 175 hookah lounges and cafes, with a disproportionate number in Los Angeles, near universities and colleges.

When asked why hookah smoking is more attractive than cigarette smoking, 60 percent of the participants in the UCLA study said it is a trendy way of socializing. And although 43 percent of hookah smokers said they believe the practice is indeed harmful, “socializing with friends appeared to outweigh health concerns,” Rezk-Hanna said.

“This study underscores the urgent importance of more research and campaigns to increase public knowledge on the dangers of hookah smoking, especially among young adults,” Rezk-Hanna said. “Understanding the basis of these perceptions and beliefs is of particular relevance for helping healthcare professionals design effective prevention and intervention strategies that target young-adult hookah smokers.”

The study was published in the journal Nursing Research. 

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