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Study: Nearly 1 In 5 High School Students Smokes Hookah

ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – According to a new study, nearly one in five high school seniors reported smoking hookah this past year.

Hookahs are water pipes that are used to smoke specially-made tobacco that comes in different flavors. Some popular flavors are apple, mint, cherry, chocolate, coconut, licorice, cappuccino, and watermelon.

"It is a new niche as cigarette use has decreased," Dr. Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at NYU, and the study's co-author told CBS News.

Cigarette use has decreased across the U.S. by 33 percent in the last 10 years; however, hookah use has increased by 123 percent during that same time period.

"This is a very frightening occurrence," Weitzman said.

The researchers analyzed data from Monitoring the Future, which is a nationwide ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. They conduct surveys from about 15,000 high school seniors in 48 states each year. The surveys can vary in topics.

This study found that hookah use was more common among teens who also smoked cigarettes or used alcohol, marijuana, or other harmful substances.

Hookah use began centuries ago in ancient Persia and India. Today, hookah cafes are gaining popularity around the world, including in the United States.

The sweet flavors of hookah tend to mask the tobacco smoke smell. "Young people are certainly attracted to things that have a sweet flavor," Dr. Harold J. Farber, pediatric pulmonologist at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, told CBS News.

Although many users think it is less harmful, hookah smoking has many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"A one-hour session of hookah smoking is equivalent to smoking about two or three packs of cigarettes in terms of health risks," Farber said.

Study author Joseph J. Palamar, an assistant professor of population health at NYU Langone Medical Center, says that people who smoke hookah tend to do it once a month, unless most cigarette smokers who end up smoking on a daily basis.

Hookahs vary in size, shape, and style. Hookah smoking is typically done in groups, with the same mouthpiece passed from person to person.

The results showed that hookah smoking was most popular among teens from families with above-average incomes.

Farber suggests parents talk to the children about the harmful effects of using tobacco products on health.

The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

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