Hookah’s ‘sexy’ image lures college students

"Hookah tobacco smoking does not seem to be hampered by many of the negative social stigmas of cigarette smoking," says Jaime Sidani. (Credit: Jan Krömer/Flickr)

When college students buy into the idea that hookah smoking is relaxing and even sensual, they are more likely to give it a try, according to a recent survey.

Hookah tobacco smoking exposes users to substantial amounts of toxicants such as carbon monoxide, nicotine, carcinogens, and tar.

“It was surprising to learn that college students, even when they were aware of the health dangers associated with hookah tobacco smoking at baseline, still went on to use a hookah for the first time,” says lead author Jaime Sidani, senior research specialist in the Program for Research on Media and Health at the University of Pittsburgh.

“However, students who had less positive attitudes toward hookah smoking were significantly less likely to initiate. This suggests that countering positive attitudes may be at least as effective as emphasizing harm in preventing initiation of hookah tobacco smoking.”

Student attitudes

Sidani and her colleagues analyzed a sample of 569 first- and second-year University of Florida college students who were surveyed twice over a seven-month period about their attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors regarding hookah smoking. During that time, 13 percent of the students initiated hookah tobacco use.

The students were more likely to initiate hookah use if they had positive attitudes toward hookah smoking—which is frequently promoted as relaxing, pleasurable, fun, and sexual—and if they thought it was a socially acceptable practice among their peers.

“Hookah tobacco smoking does not seem to be hampered by many of the negative social stigmas of cigarette smoking,” says Sidani.

“If educational programs can help students to cut through the positive portrayals and marketing of hookah smoking, it may be possible to make hookah smoking less attractive and socially acceptable, resulting in less initiation.”

Policy issue

Senior author Brian Primack adds that regulation of hookah tobacco smoking and marketing in the United States is confusing and less rigorous than laws meant to prevent cigarette smoking, which may contribute to misperceptions around hookah smoking.

“Clear policy measures addressing the sale and marketing of hookah products and regulation of hookah bars and cafes may be another way to counteract the positive attitudes young adults hold toward hookah smoking,” Primack says.

Researchers from the University of Florida contributed to the study, which appears in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. The National Cancer Institute and the Steven Manners Memorial Fund at the Center for Social & Urban Research supported the research.

Source: University of Pittsburgh