The drug burning up college campuses

Hooked on Hookah

College: a time to expand horizons, learn new skills and ... smoke hookah? That's right, hookah lounges go hand in hand with college-town standbys like artisanal ice cream shops and coffee shops. A recent University of Florida study found that:

That's a smoking gun ... or pipe. Turns out, getting to a hookah lounge is just a short Uber or walk for many college students. The bigger the school, the easier it is to find a hookah — 3 out of 4 schools with 20,000 or more students were within 3 miles of shisha. And, according to the study, which compiled a list of hookah establishments and overlaid that on a map of colleges and universities in the U.S., only schools with smoke-free campus policies were able to keep the number of hookah lounges down.

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The results highlight just how hooked college students are getting to hookah. The smoke is rising: Nearly one-quarter of college students smoked hookah in 2014, up 5.8 percent from 2010, according to a University of Michigan study. And many are initiated at college — according to a 2012 study about one-quarter of women first try hookah their freshman year. At roughly $5 a person, hookah is often cheaper than a pack of cigarettes. Plus, it's a social experience that, unlike pot in many states, won't get you a ticket or extended time in a prison cell. What does having a hookah pipe within reach mean for how much college students smoke? The researchers aren't sure yet ("We're not claiming that there's any causational relationship," says Ramzi Salloum, who led the University of Florida study), but similar research regarding cigarette smoking concluded that more tobacco vendors yielded a higher prevalence of smoking among young ones.

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The drug burning up college campuses
Male customers smoke shisha pipes inside the Haj Mirza traditional teahouse in the Nagshe Jahan bazaar in Isfahan, Iran, on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Iran expects its economic growth to accelerate next year as the removal of sanctions under a nuclear agreement offsets a global slump in oil prices, a top aide to President Hassan Rouhani said. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A male customer smokes a shisha pipe inside the Haj Mirza traditional teahouse in the Nagshe Jahan bazaar in Isfahan, Iran, on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Iran expects its economic growth to accelerate next year as the removal of sanctions under a nuclear agreement offsets a global slump in oil prices, a top aide to President Hassan Rouhani said. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SHIRAZ, IRAN - MAY 29: A woman smokes a hookah while visiting a poetry calligraphy workshop on May 29, 2014 in Shiraz, Iran. Shiraz, celebrated for more than 2,000 years as the heartland of Persian culture, is known as the home of Iranian poetry and for its progressive attitudes and tolerance. Like all of Iran, this week Shiraz observes the 25th anniversary of the death and continued legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic revolution. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
AT SEA, GREECE - AUGUST 31: A man Syrian man smokes Sheesha on the Blue Star ferry bound for Athens from Kos on August 31, 2015, Greece. Migrants from many parts of the Middle East and African nations continue to flood into Europe before heading from Athens, north to the Macedonian border. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - AUGUST 24: Palestinian girls smoke shisha pipes and drink coffee in Stars and Bucks coffee shop on August 24, 2011 in Ramallah, West Bank. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will formally submit the application for Palestinian statehood to the 66th United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20th. The Palestinians and the Israelis are taking part in global diplomatic lobbying to win support for their differing positions on statehood. The Palestinian bid is borne from two decades of on-and-off peace talks that have failed to produce a deal. The ultimate goal of the Palestinian Authority is to end Israeli occupation and to establish a sovereign and independent state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JOCELYNE ZABLIT A Lebanese woman smokes a narghile, or waterpipe, at a restaurant in downtown Beirut on May 25, 2009. In Lebanon, the anti-smoking lobby is barely a blip on the radar, the government cares little about the issue, so the Havanas are among the world's cheapest here, cigarettes are free of punitive pricing and health warnings are barely visible on the side of packs. Health professionals say the number of smokers in Lebanon is among the highest in the region and cancer-related illnesses directly linked to tobacco are rising at a rapid rate. Most worrisome is a growing trend of narghile smokers, especially among teenagers who wrongly believe it is less harmful to their health than cigarettes, experts say. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH BARRAK (Photo credit should read JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images)
Alfonso Ramirez tests one of his hookah creations at Phoenicia restaurant in Glendale, May 15, 2009. Given the nickname Abo Salem by his coÂworkers at the Lebanese restaurant (it is a common name in Lebanon), Ramirez, a native of Mexico, has been working in the U.S. for 10 years and become known for his inventive creations of tobacco and fruit mixtures used in hookah water pipes. Over the years, he has experimented with many mixtures and discovered that hollowed out apples, filled with a tobacco and fruit mixture, makes for the best flavor, but he often experiments with more exotic fruit like watermelon, mango and papaya, saying that a banana hookah is in the works. (Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Shisha Smoker, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo by Marka/UIG via Getty Images)

From a health perspective, this use raises a lot of red flags. Survey says the impact of hookah use on health is not good, but many inhalers don't realize that. The majority of hookah users polled in one study thought hookah was less harmful than cigarette tobacco. But we're often wrong — lots of people thought almond milk was full of almonds, too. According to a report by the American Lung Association, hookah smoking "has been linked to many of the same diseases caused by cigarette smoking." And on top of its components, hookah was found in another study to be a gateway drug, with users more likely to use cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines and more.

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But before you start a neighborhood watch and pick up burning torches to take down these burning hotbeds, some have criticized as xenophobic a recent effort in Seattle to curb hookah lounges; in late August, the ACLU of Washington state released a letter suggesting that "city enforcement decisions that will deprive business owners of their livelihood should not be made in haste." And then, perhaps the popularity at colleges isn't as large as it appears; a University of Michigan representative said in an e-mail, "We don't have an issue with hookah bars in our community," citing data from 2014 that only 9 percent of the school's undergraduates reported using a hookah in the past 30 days. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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