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Hookah’s growing popularity a concern for health groups

PHOENIX – Hookah is becoming a popular smoking option for college students.

According to the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, one out of three college students admit to trying it at least once.

“Most of my customers are 18- to 25-year-olds,” said Michael Kinnaird, owner of That 70’s Shot and Hookah Lounge near Camelback and Seventh Street in Phoenix.

Hookah is tobacco mixed with molasses, honey and fruit flavoring that is vaporized in a water pipe. That vapor is inhaled through a tube on the side. The process allows for longer period of inhaling.

Kinnaird said many of his clients use it as an alternative to smoking cigarette or cigars, and since there is a lower level of nicotine in the tobacco, it’s safer.

“In reality, if you smoke once or twice a week it can’t be much worse than the air in most of our major cities,” said Kinnaird.

The American Lung Association disagrees with that assessment.

“We see this as the next growing public health threat,” said Christian Stumpf with the association’s Phoenix branch.

Stumpf said much of the research is still new on the effects of hookah, but believes it could be worse than cigarettes.

“Some of these smoking session last up to 30 to 60 minutes,” he said. “In that time it could be equal to inhaling as much as 100 cigarettes.”

Stumpf also believes hookah makers market to the younger demographic by making fruit flavors, comparing it the same way Big Tobacco marketed cigarettes to kids.

Kinnaird disagrees with Stumpf, and a lot of the research done. He admits that smoking hookah isn’t the healthiest thing to do, but said it’s not nearly as bad as some are making it out to be.

“There is some nicotine content to it, but not 100 cigarettes worth like some are claiming,” said Stumpf. “There’s not that much tobacco in it. How can it be 100 cigarettes-worth?”

Even with that lower nicotine content, Stumpf said hookah is still very harmful.

“We would say nicotine and tobacco are bad, no matter the sample size,” says Stumpf.