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Hookah smoking poses risks, but should not be banned

Hookah smoking originated in the Middle East, but in recent years college students across America have adopted the pastime. In addition to the communal and social aspects of smoking hookah, students are attracted to the sweet taste of shisha – a tobacco mixed with molasses and fruit that is typically smoked out of a water pipe.

Yet, according to the New York Times, lawmakers in California, Connecticut, Oregon and New York, concerned over the possible health risks of increased hookah use, have introduced bills to ban or limit hookah bars. In addition, Louisiana State University, Baylor University, George Mason University and Lehigh University have taken measures to curb hookah smoking.

A 2008 survey of several North Carolina universities revealed that more than 40 percent of 3,770 students surveyed had smoked hookah at some point, according to the Times. That percentage is nearly equal to the number of students who have tried cigarettes.

The freedom to smoke hookah – which is not only a college pastime, but also a cultural act for many – should not be hindered by such legislation. However, students new to the act should be aware of the health risks involved.

A 2005 World Health Organization study found that hookah smoke contains the same cancer-causing toxicants as regular cigarettes. The study also suggested that an hour-long hookah session could result in inhaling as much smoke as 100 cigarettes, and sharing a mouthpiece could raise the risk of diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Yet there is still no reason well-informed young people should be banned from smoking hookah. While a hookah session can lead to the intake of massive amounts of smoke, habitual hookah use is not as easy as it is with cigarettes.

The time involved in preparing a hookah for use and the social aspect of the activity present possible barriers to addictive behavior. Unlike cigarettes, smoking hookah is often a special occasion rather than an activity that students are likely to indulge in multiple times a day.

Furthermore, the risk of transmittable diseases can be reduced by the use of individual mouthpieces. Should each person have their own, the chance of infection can be minimized.

While hookah smoking may be a new trend on college campuses, it is receiving undue attention. Issues such as alcohol use, drunk driving and drug use are more serious problems among college students, and lawmakers’ energies would be better served in those areas.