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By Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Hookah use is increasing dramatically among U.S. teens, according to a study in Pediatrics, published online Monday and in the August issue.

The study, “Hookah Use Among U.S. High School Seniors,” found the annual prevalence of hookah use was 18 percent, based on a national survey of 5,540 high school seniors.

“Hookah use is not less harmful or addictive than cigarettes,” said Joseph Palamar, the lead author and assistant professor of population health at New York University.

“There is a common misperception that the water in hookah filters out the bad things, like nicotine … but that simply isn’t true,” he said Monday.

Students who smoked cigarettes, and those who had ever used alcohol, marijuana, or other illicit substances, were more likely to use the hookah. Unexpectedly, researchers also found that students whose parents had higher levels of education, and those with higher incomes, were more likely to use hookah — unlike cigarette smoking, which is associated with lower socioeconomic status.

“Hookah use isn’t frowned upon as much, especially by the upper class because use doesn’t have the typical smoking stigma,” Palamar said. “It’s also trendy to use at hookah bars.”

If there is any silver lining to the upsurge, it’s that hookah tends to be a once-in-a-while habit, unlike cigarettes.

Still, researchers concluded it is crucial for public health officials to fill in the gaps in public understanding about the harm of hookah smoking.

“Users … need to be educated about the potential adverse effects,” said Palamar. In light of this latest findings, he added “please use sparingly.”

Photo via WikiCommons

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