Forget the freshman 15. The latest health risk among college coeds isn't filling out, it's lighting up.
Nearly a quarter of college women smoke tobacco by way of a hookah, or water pipe, for the first time during their freshman year, according to new research from The Miriam HospitalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of women polled had already tried hookah before stepping foot on campus.
Why is hookah smoking on the rise? First off, it's tasty. Hookah pipes filter smoke from burning tobacco discs through water, which cools the smoke and cuts its harshness, compelling even "non-smokers" to proclaim their love for lighting up. Better yet, the tobacco used in hookahs is often flavored to taste like bubblegum, watermelon, or another fruity flavor. What's more? Hitting up a hookah bar is a highly social activity, so it's no wonder that there's a market for new venues in college towns. Now more and more hookah bars are popping up in college towns,Ã‚Â says lead researcher Robyn L. Fielder, MS.
What's the big deal? Isn't hookah a healthier alternative to cigarettes? In fact, this is a common misconception, says Fielder. "People often think the water in hookah pipes filters out dangerous particles found in cigarettes," she says. But the truth is that hookah smokers are exposed to 56 times more smoke than cigarette smokers, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research. (Check out how smoking affects your body.) And hookah smoke packs higher doses of carbon monoxide, which contains toxic and cancer-causing particles, says Fielder. The risks donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stop there: Because hookah pipes are shared, water pipes can carry viruses such as herpes, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, according to one study by Danish researchers.
How to kick the habit Fighting the hookah urge might be even harder than shunning cigarettes, notes Fielder. "The social aspect is a big reason why many people do it," she says, and abstaining from a puff or two when you're out with your friends might not make a big difference if your hookah-smoking buddies are blowing smoke all around. It might be time to find some healthier stomping grounds.
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