MONDAY, July 30, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- First-time use of a hookah (water pipe) to smoke tobacco is increasingly common among U.S. female college students in their freshman year, a new study finds.
Researchers surveyed 483 female college freshman and found that 343 had not used a hookah before college. Of those 343 students, 23 percent tried hookah smoking during their first year of college.
Hookah use appeared to be linked to alcohol and marijuana use. The more alcohol the students consumed, the more likely they were to try hookah smoking. Students who used marijuana engaged in hookah smoking more often than others.
The researchers also found that certain personality traits, such as a higher level of impulsivity and a strong tendency to compare oneself to others, predicted frequency of hookah use.
The study was published online in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
The findings are troubling because there's been a dramatic increase in hookah smoking rates among young adults in the United States over the last two decades, said the researchers at Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.
Some studies suggest that levels of hookah smoking among young adults are on par with cigarette smoking.
Many college students mistakenly believe that hookah smoking is safer than cigarettes, but hookah smoking has been linked with many of the same diseases caused by cigarettes, including lung cancer, respiratory conditions and gum disease, the researchers noted.
"The popularity and social nature of hookah smoking, combined with the fact that college freshmen are more likely to experiment with risky behavior, could set the stage for a potential public health issue, given what we know about the health risks of hookah smoking," lead author Robyn Fielder, a research intern Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, said in a hospital news release.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hookahs.