The hazards of hookah

The hazards of hookah

Social hookah packs a carbon monoxide punch

By Jill Pease

Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Patrons leaving hookah cafés had carbon monoxide levels more than three times higher than patrons exiting traditional bars, according to a new UF study.

Carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to tissues, and long-term exposure has been linked to cardiovascular disease. The results appeared in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The social nature of hookah smoking, which is often shared in groups, makes it appealing to young people, said lead researcher Tracey Barnett, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of behavioral science and community health.

“There is also a common misperception that hookah smoking is a harmless alternative to cigarette smoking,” she said.

Hookah pipes are composed of a head, where lit charcoal and tobacco sit, a body with water bowl, and a hose. Air is drawn through the tobacco and into the pipe body, where it passes through the water before being inhaled through the hose.

A study led by Barnett showed that 11 percent of Florida high school students and 4 percent of middle school students surveyed in 2007 had tried hookah smoking. It is especially popular among college students. A University of Memphis study estimated that 10 percent to 20 percent of some young adult populations are current hookah users.

The new UF study is the first to measure carbon monoxide levels of hookah smokers “in the field.”

“Our study is unique because we were actually getting participants as they were leaving these establishments,” Barnett said. “There’s been a lot of great lab work on hookah and carbon monoxide levels, but doing a behavior in the lab is not the same as when young adults are out with their friends in an environment where there’s also drinking and socializing, so with this study we were catching them in a real-world moment as best we could.”