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A recent study published in the July edition of Pediatrics found that nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors say they’ve used a hookah – a water pipe used to smoke tobacco that is often flavored – in the past year.
This finding is worrisome, but unfortunately unsurprising. A 2007 study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that 37% of college freshman believed that water pipes are less harmful and less addictive than regular cigarettes. Additionally, focus groups reveal that many believe that water in the hookah filters out toxicants in tobacco smoke. This misperception has dangerous consequences for teens and young adults.
Hookah smoking has a variety of health risks. Hookah smoke contains high levels of carbon monoxide, metals and carcinogens. During a typical hookah smoking session, a smoker inhales around 90,000 milliliters of smoke, compared to the approximately 500 to 600 milliliters that are inhaled when smoking a cigarette. The World Health Organization estimates that the smoke from a single hour-long hookah session can equal over 100 cigarettes. The smoker is also exposed to nicotine, increasing risk for addiction. Furthermore, research has found that the levels of carcinogens and toxicants in hookah second-hand smoke exceed those found in cigarette smoke.
Currently, hookah is not required to have any health or addiction warning label. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a rule which would allow it to regulate hookah devices and tobacco. There is a clear lack of knowledge among the general population about the risks of noncigarette tobacco. It is time to make sure kids and their parents are fully aware of the health risks that come with all tobacco products. No amount of water filters out carcinogens. The FDA must claim its authority to regulate hookah and all other tobacco products.
Margaret Raskob is a freelance blogger.