Young Adults Smoking More Hookah Than Cigarettes

May 21, 2018

Many anti-smoking efforts are focused on cigarettes, but new research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that more energy should be spent discouraging the use of water pipes, or hookahs.

A 2013 survey of more than 3,250 of young adults from across the country found this group is smoking a substantial amount of tobacco from water pipes, or hookahs. Nearly 55 percent of the total volume of smoke inhaled by people aged 18-30 was from water pipes.

Though hookah smokers will inhale smaller quantities of toxicants—such as tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine—researchers warn that its use is still harmful.

“A single cigarette can only delivery about 500 milliliters, half of one liter of smoke,” said lead author Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. “Whereas one hookah smoking session, even though it seems very palatable, can deliver 100 times that.”

In light of this research, Primack said policy changes should be considered, such as outlawing flavored Hookah tobacco, which may be appealing to young people. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which was drafted with the goal of discouraging young people from smoking, outlaws flavored cigarettes.

Though the data is more than five years old, Primack said he wouldn't expect the findings to be significantly different if the survey was repeated today. He said, among young people, cigarette use is decreasing while hookah use remains the same. He added that future research should also look at e-cigarettes and juul vaporizer use.

“That was not as popular [in 2013,]” he said.

This research was published last week in the journal of Tobacco Control.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.