College kids warned about starting hookah habit
NEW YORK: Puffing on a water pipe full of flavored tobacco may sound more glamorous than smoking a regular cigarette, but it s probably just as bad for your lungs, if not even more harmful, a Washington, DC researcher warns. Dr. Christopher Loffredo, director of the Cancer Genetics and Epidemiology Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, has been studying tobacco use in Egypt since 1997. In the past five years, he said, he s seen an increase in the use of hookahs among young people in both the Middle East and the United States. Loffredo said he had originally thought hookah smoking was a trend limited to big cities like New York, but colleagues at a tobacco conference this July told him hookah use is also on the rise in small college towns in Colorado, Texas, Delaware and the Midwest. Loffredo has published several studies on hookah use, including a report on how young Egyptian women are picking up the habit, which they see as more socially acceptable and healthier than cigarette smoking. He also found that genetic damage in the mouth tissue of hookah smokers was identical to that seen among cigarette smokers. Nobody really knows what the risks of hookah smoking are compared to cigarettes, Loffredo noted, but clearly exposure to tobacco in a typical hookah session is substantial. The concern is that the session of smoking is very long. There s a social dimension to it. You re sitting with friends, typically, he explained. Sessions can last for up to three hours. That s a lot of tobacco exposure in that time period.
We re worried that hookah smokers could become addicted and could either turn to cigarettes or daily use of hookah devices for tobacco, Loffredo added. Another concern, he noted, is that hookah use may represent a loophole around city and state laws banning smoking in public places. Much is known about the harmful substances contained in cigarettes, Loffredo said, but there has been virtually no research on the content of tobaccos used in water pipes. That kind of basic research really needs to be done so we have a better sense of what these health risks might be, he concluded.