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Hookah Use: A Rising College Trend

by Lyssa Goldberg | University of Miami

F Posted in: College P Posted on: June 11, 2012
Screen shot 2012-06-10 at 11.11.13 PM Image courtesy of Flickr, NH53

It’s a Saturday night. A group of college students are gathered in a circle with rings of cherry-flavored smoke filling the air. The newest local hookah lounge is their favorite hang out.

A hookah is a pipe with a long, flexible tube that draws smoke from the bowl of water to which it is connected. This instrument of Near Eastern origin allows the user to smoke flavored tobacco called shisha. Think: caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.

Though smoking hookah has been around for centuries, hookah use is on the rise amongst college-age Americans. In fact, one in three college students has smoked hookah, according to a recent study conducted by Brian Primack, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. At the same time, the number of cigarette smokers is declining.

“No one wants to be seen smoking a cigarette, but there are a million pictures of kids blowing smoke from their mouths while smoking hookah on Facebook,” said Renee Borshchukova, a rising junior at Nova Southeastern University. “It’s just the new trend right now.”

Borshchukova said she began smoking hookah because all of her friends kept talking about it, and it comes in many flavors.

Andrew Freedman, an incoming freshman at Savannah College of Art and Design, said he has used hookah two or three times since being introduced to it at a party. He said he has tried blueberry, mango and piña colada, and he particularly enjoys its favorable scent and calming effect.

“I think of the smoke as steam coming out of me to relieve me of stress,” Freedman said, “but instead of smelling like cigarettes or marijuana, it has the pleasant aroma of a variety of flavors for your choosing.”

Alysha Khan is a rising junior at the University of Miami who calls herself strongly anti-drug. She has never smoked hookah.

“I simply have no interest in those kinds of things and have never really been given a reason or opportunity to try them,” Khan said.

Though she has friends who have used hookah, Khan said she knows nothing about the health risks involved and believes most other students don’t either.

“I heard smoking hookah is worse than smoking cigarettes, but I don’t do it very often so I’m not that concerned,” Borshchukova said.

On the other hand, Freedman said he believes the shisha in hookah is “better for you than most alternative smokeable items out there.”

This discrepancy in responses calls to mind the James Dean era. The rebel without a cause looked cool with a cigarette in his mouth, but nobody considered the lethal side effects. The same can be said for hookah use now.

“Hookah does seem to be cooler and more hip that smoking cigarettes, but I wouldn’t quite put it as being in a positive light,” Khan said. “It still seems something kind of shady to me.”

One hookah session delivers approximately 100 times the smoke as a single cigarette, and participants inhale twice the amount of nicotine as they do with a single cigarette, according to CNN Health.

Some hookah lounges and bars offer the alternative of herbal shisha, which contains no tobacco or nicotine, to meet certain states’ anti-tobacco laws.

However, research has not yet shown if hookah is addictive. In addition, Freedman said, with added toxic elements in cigarettes, it is cigarettes rather than hookah that fully deserve the bad reputation.

Lyssa Goldberg Lyssa Goldberg Lyssa is a NGJ College Reporter and a sophomore at the University of Miami, where she is studying journalism and political science. She is assistant editor of her school's student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane. She also writes for Distraction, the student lifestyle magazine.

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