The hookah, generally associated with feudal India, is becoming evermore popular in the West. The water-pipe bars are becoming a regular haunt of the youth in north America, Canadian research suggests.
A group of scientists from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center, Quebec set out "to identify the sociodemographic characteristics of water-pipe users in a North American context and to describe concurrent psychoactive substance use."
AdvertisementData on sociodemographic characteristics, water-pipe smoking, and use of other psychoactive substances were collected in 2007 through mailed self-report questionnaires completed by 871 young adults in the 18-24 age group. They were participating in the Nicotine Dependence in Teens Study, a longitudinal investigation of the natural history of nicotine dependence among adolescents in Montreal, Canada.
Previous-year water-pipe use was reported by 23% of participants. Most reported smoking known the water-pipe, (also known as shishas), only on rare occasions, but five per cent had used them one or more times in the past month.
Younger age, male gender, speaking English, not living with parents, and higher household income independently increased the odds of water-pipe use. Water-pipe use was markedly higher among participants who had smoked cigarettes, had used other tobacco products, had drunk alcohol, had engaged in binge drinking, had smoked marijuana, or had used other illicit drugs in the previous year, the researchers said in their article published in Pediatrics.
"The popularity of water pipes may be due in part to perceptions that they are safer than cigarettes," warned senior investigator Jennifer O'Loughlin, a professor at the University of Montreal department of social and preventive medicine and a scientist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center.
"However, water pipe smoke contains nicotine, carbon monoxide, carcinogens and may contain greater amounts of tar and heavy metals than cigarette smoke."
Student Sarah Bergman of Concordia University in Montreal told CBC News that smoking hookah offered an illusion it was not bad for you.
"It's not like cigarettes at all," said Bergman, who described a sweet flavour from inhaling the smoke. "In a way, people want to do it more often, and they think it is better for them."
Keeping up with the enthusiasm of the youth, city authorities across the region are issuing licenses for more and more hookah bars. In some places, laws aimed to keep bars and restaurants cigarette-free don't ban the aromatic smoke swirling from water pipes.
Still the awareness of the dangers associated with the water-pipe is also increasing. The U.S. National Institutes of Health have started funding research into hookah use. The Montreal researchers cautioned, "Water-pipe users may represent an advantaged group of young people with the leisure time, resources, and opportunity to use water-pipes. Evidence-based public health and policy interventions are required to equip the public to make informed decisions about water-pipe use."