Rich Kids From Big Cities Most Likely to Hookah
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Rich Kids From Big Cities Most Likely to Hookah


Ah, high school. We’ve all been there: the unpredictable and embarrassing voice cracks, the spontaneous erections (er, for half of us, anyway) and of course the paralyzing need to “fit in.” It’s that last part that had us all (or me and several friends, at least) convinced that smoking hookah was cool. Now, according to a recent NYU study, hookah smoking has spread even wider than that forehead blemish from your senior yearbook photo.

The survey of over 15,000 high school seniors, which was conducted between 2010-2012, determined that about 18% smoked hookah (that’s almost one in five). While the numbers themselves may not be particularly surprising for a social group looking for ways to rebel, some of the specifics were revealing.

Playgrounds for the City Kids

“What we find most interesting is that students of higher socioeconomic status appear to be more likely to use hookah,” said assistant NYU professor Joseph J. Palamar in a recent Time news story. “Surprisingly, students with more educated parents or higher personal income are at high risk for use.” Additionally, seniors in big cities were more likely to partake as well.

The details about higher income and big cities don’t come entirely as a surprise. Back home in Ann Arbor, there was one lousy hookah lounge with no ambiance, terrible service and pretty high prices. Bigger cities have more people with disposable income, which means more hookah lounges with higher prices. Bigger lounges are also usually decked-out with interiors that put Chinese opium dens to shame. Aren’t all these perks sure to enhance the “cool” factor?

Not a Safe Substitute for Cigs

Though teens may be thinking that hookah smoking is somehow less harmful than actual cigarette smoking, the CDC says that it carries all the same health risks. Even though hookah sessions are bound to be less frequent than daily smoking habits, studies show that an hour-long session means about 200 puffs of smoke as opposed to the expected 20 from a cigarette. In terms of actual smoke inhaled, teens are getting about 90,000 milliliters of it from a hookah session rather than the 500-600 they would get from a cigarette.

While stats from the CDC show that cigarette smoking rates are at their lowest in the past 22 years, those results may not be as positive as they seem. Their research also reports that the popularity of pipe tobacco exploded between 2008 and 2011 with a 573% increase, coinciding with a federal tobacco tax hike; unfortunately, perceived trends of people smoking less may be more of an economic illusion than anything else.

What’s Next, E-Hooks?

But what’s worrying NYU researchers most now is what could happen to these hookah-related stats given the rise of ever more portable and discreet smoking technology. We’ve all seen the increase in e-cigs for vaporizing tobacco (though vaping is of course more synonymous with another drug) but now hookah pens that use similar technology are hitting the market as well. Still, while it may be true that inhaling vapor is marginally “better” than inhaling outright smoke, if these devices catch on with teens, whatever frequency gap exists between cigarettes and hookah could close. Best not to start at all, kids; we like you (and your healthy lungs) just the way you are.

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About Author

Ryan Aliapoulios is a freelance writer and editor. He also hosts Dad Bops, the world's first intersectional vegan comedy podcast about dad music, available on iTunes and Soundcloud.