Cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S. Despite this fact, many people still smoke and get hooked on nicotine, one of the most addictive abused substances. A growing sector of smokers, mostly young people, is rejecting cigarettes for the hookah, or water pipe. Research on hookah smoking is limited, but suggests that it can be just as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes. And, despite the fact that many vendors claim there is little or no nicotine in their products, hookah smoking is addictive. Growing Popularity of Hookah A hookah is a water pipe. A heated tobacco or herbal mixture is filtered through water before the smoke reaches the smoker. The smoker inhales it through a long tube. The practice of smoking with a water pipe dates back several hundred years and is traditional in India, Persia and the Middle East. The act of smoking with a hookah is social. Where smoking cigarettes is a personal event, people gather around a hookah to smoke together, sometimes for hours. The tobacco and other mixtures used in a hookah are often flavored and may have less nicotine than cigarettes. The fruit and candy flavors make hookah smoke less harsh and can give the false sense of being safer than cigarette smoke. In the U.S., hookah smoking is growing in popularity along with the number of hookah lounges. Most of these places are exempt from indoor smoking laws. Hookah is most popular with young men between the ages of 18 and 24. A survey also found that 17 percent of high school seniors reported smoking hookah. Is Hookah Addictive? A common misconception about hookah is that it is not addictive, or at least not as addictive as cigarettes. Many hookah blends are lower in nicotine than cigarettes, but studies have found that users may be getting just as much nicotine as cigarette smokers. This is because hookah smokers are exposed to more smoke. They tend to sit around the water pipe for longer than 30 minutes at a time, and sometimes for several hours. A daily hookah session of an average length equates to smoking 10 cigarettes a day, enough to get hooked. Some experts also believe that hookah addiction is more complex than simply getting hooked on nicotine. The mix of chemicals in hookah tobacco blends can lead to more complicated addictive behaviors. The social and relaxing atmosphere around the hookah smoking section can also add a psychological element to the addiction. A user can become dependent on that sense of relaxation at the end of the day and on the social interaction that comes with it. Helping Smokers Quit Although studies on hookah smoking are limited, researchers are working to find answers, including how to help people quit. Much work has been done to try to help cigarette smokers kick the habit. Now, researchers from Washington State University are figuring out how to get hookah users to stop. They are using a technique called motivational incentive. This means that regular hookah smokers are given something valuable as motivation to quit smoking. The study is ongoing and results should be forthcoming. Hookah smoking is an old tradition, but it is one that has come to the U.S. and is growing in popularity. Young people are particularly lured to the social act of smoking a water pipe, as well as the false sense of low risk. Hookah smoking is bad for health and is definitely addictive. As research continues, we will learn more about this risky habit.