Dangers of hookah smoking: The latest trend in teen activity

Concerts and parties are among the most popular teen hangouts. But young adults are beginning to show an increasing interest in hookah lounges as another option.

A hookah is a water pipe used to pass charcoal heated air through a tobacco mixture ending in a water-filled chamber the user inhales through a tube and mouthpiece. Hookah use is seen among teens as an emerging trend that will only continue to grow over time.

Due in part to the attraction of the many flavored tobacco options, studies from the American Lung Association reveal hookah use is quickly becoming one of the world's largest tobacco epidemics.

There has been an increase in hookah use around the world. In 2006, an estimated 300 lounges were in operation in the U.S. The Michigan Department of Community Health recognizes that hookah lounges and bars are a growing issue in Michigan. "Hookah lounges can operate legally under a tobacco specialty retail store exemption. Currently, Michigan has roughly 200 of those exemptions, many of which are hookah lounges or bars," says Angela Minicuci, public information officer, Michigan Department of Community Health.

A typical one-hour hookah session involves inhaling 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette, increasing health risks with high levels of carbon monoxide, heavy metals, tar and cancer-causing chemicals.

"People make their own decisions, but with the lack of information in today's society many smokers are misinformed to believe hookah smoking is a healthier and less addicting alternative to cigarettes," says Samuel Fawaz, M.D., internal medicine, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

While hookah smokers often mistake this practice to be less harmful, hookah smoking and cigarettes actually carry many of the same health risks including lung cancer and respiratory disease.

Typically practiced in groups, the same mouthpiece is passed from one person to the next making hookah smoking a fun, social activity for teens and their friends. "It's not just the harmful elements of nicotine and charcoal carcinogens that people should be aware of," adds Dr. Fawaz. "Many smokers don't realize they are facing the risk of transmissible and communicable diseases such as oral cancer, herpes and tuberculosis when they share the mouthpiece with others."

"There are many ways we can help slow the growing trend of hookah use in our community," advises Dr. Fawaz, co-founder and organizer of the Hookah Community Coalition. "With the expansion of our local partnerships, we plan to educate kids, teachers, parents, college students and the general public of the growing epidemic through multiple avenues including campaigns and seminars provided specifically in middle and high schools across Southeast Michigan."