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Hookah Myths Evaporated by UT Senior

Published: August 20, 2010
While some young adults believe smoking the Middle Eastern waterpipe called hookah is a safer alternative to cigarettes, the near opposite is true.

“The biggest myth is that the water filters out the toxins,” said Cathryne Dutka ’11, “but it only filters five percent of the nicotine.”

Dutka, a nursing student, had an eight-week internship this summer with the Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center in Sarasota. Working with an interdisciplinary group of medical, pharmacy and nursing students, Dutka helped develop a public health campaign around hookah use.

She worked in a four-county area with wellness coordinators, offering them a training the interns developed for health trainers including a presentation, posters and brochure on this growing trend. They created a website and collaborated with health department officials in writing a proposed regulation report they will present to the Florida legislature this fall. The interns’ work was even featured in the Bradenton Herald

“I feel like we made a big impact,” Dutka said. “We presented to a group of nurse managers in the Sarasota County Health Department and many of them didn’t know what hookah was. They thought it was an acronym for something. It was really rewarding to be able to give this information to them.”

Dutka, the president of the Student Nurses Association, said that smoking hookah for up to one hour exposes the person to a greater volume of smoke, making one hookah smoking session the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes.

“This was a new discovery for me,” said Dutka. “I saw hookah used on campus and figured people who used it knew what they were doing.”

Aside from the inhaled toxins, Dutka said the shared mouthpiece on the pipe leaves users at risk for tuberculosis, herpes and other respiratory diseases. While some hookah bars provide plastic mouthpieces, health inspections are not performed on them.

“We used ‘Don’t Get the Hookah Herp’ in our focus group,” Dutka said, noting that the tagline appealed to their participants. “That’s just gross.”

Associate Dean of Students Gina Firth said she’s seen hookah use increase in the last three years with students packing the waterpipes into their move-in gear as they do their posters and extra-long sheets.

“It’s huge. There are a lot of students using it who you wouldn’t think would,” said Firth. “It’s trendy and people think it’s safe.”

Firth attributes some of the popularity to the social aspect of hookah smoking. Students can go to a hookah bar at 18 years old and smoke, giving them an under-21 alternative. Because the smoke is cooled, it is easier to pull into the lungs. What makes Firth nervous is that hookah is a gateway piece, introducing students to the smoking scene. While hookah is seen as more socially acceptable, she said, it is not without the same dangers as cigarettes.

“Anytime you burn something it will be a carcinogen, and you’re putting it in your lungs,” said Firth, whose office has partnered with UT’s public health students on a $24,000 grant through the Tobacco Free Partnership of Hillsborough County to move UT toward a tobacco-free campus. “Nicotine is just a highly-addictive substance.”

Dutka said she hadn’t considered the community health side of nursing but after this internship the door has been opened to the possibility.

“As a nurse, a big part of what we do is educating patients,” she said. “This gave me the tools to know how to start a conversation with my patients on health issues.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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