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18% of high school seniors smoke hookah

American adolescents are turning to ethnically-linked alternative tobacco products, such as hookahs, cigars, and various smokeless tobacco products.

Now a new study by researchers affiliated with New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), in the August 2014 edition of Pediatrics identifies how prevalent Hookah use is and which teens are most likely to be using it.

The study, “Hookah Use Among U.S. High School Seniors,” used data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nation-wide ongoing annual study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students.

The MTF survey is administered in approximately 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states in the US.

Roughly 15,000 high school seniors are assessed annually.

This study examined data from the 5,540 students (modal age = 18) who were asked about Hookah use from 2010-2012.

The researchers found the annual prevalence (use in the last 12 months) of hookah use was nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors.

“What we find most interesting is that students of higher socioeconomic status appear to be more likely to use hookah,” said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC).

“Surprisingly, students with more educated parents or higher personal income are at high risk for use. We also found that hookah use is more common in cities, especially big cities. So hookah use is much different from cigarette use, which is more common in non-urban areas.”

Hookah, an ancient form of smoking, in which charcoal-heated tobacco or non-tobacco based shisha smoke is passed through water before inhalation, is rapidly gaining popularity among adolescents in the US. The researchers found those students who smoked cigarettes, and those who had ever used alcohol, marijuana or other illicit substances were more likely to use hookah.

“Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke are the leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the US,” said a study co-author Michael Weitzman, MD, a professor of Pediatrics and of Environmental Medicine at the NYULMC.

Cigarette use has decreased by 33% in the past decade in the US, while the use of alternative tobacco products such as hookahs has increased an alarming 123%. This is especially worrisome given the public misperception that hookahs are a safe alternative to cigarettes whereas evidence suggests that they are even more damaging to health than are cigarettes.

Source: NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine, USA

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18% of high school seniors smoke hookah
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