A new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that hookah smoke contained benzene, a toxic chemical with a sweet odour that has long been known to raise the risk of leukaemia. (Representational image)Sharif / Sean Sharifi/Flickr

American youngsters are getting more attracted to hookah, according to a new study reported in the online edition of Pediatrics.

Findings are based on the initiative taken by a team of researchers from New York University in the US. The study used data from a survey titled Monitoring the Future (MTF) that covered about 130 public and private schools in 48 states in the US and focused on the behaviours, attitudes and values of American secondary school students.

Nearly 5,540 students aged around 18 participated in the survey. Results showed that about one in five high school seniors used hookah during the past 12 months. Students who reported smoking cigarettes or trying alcohol or drugs were found getting more hooked to hookah. The trend was more popular in big cities than rural areas.

Another interesting finding was the link between the students' socio-economic status and the hookah smoking.

"Surprisingly, students with more educated parents or higher personal income are at high risk for use," Dr Joseph J. Palamar, an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC),said in a news release.

The introduction of hookah pens may have contributed largely to this occurrence, according to the authors. "These nifty little devices are likely to attract curious consumers, possibly even non-cigarette smokers," said Dr. Palamar. "And unlike cigarettes, hookah comes in a variety of flavors and is less likely to leave users smelling like cigarette smoke after use. This may allow some users to better conceal their use from their parents or peers."

Additionally, the popular misconception that hookahs are safer than cigarettes also played a major role. "Cigarette use has decreased by 33% in the past decade in the US, while the use of alternative tobacco products such as hookahs has increased an alarming 123%. This is especially worrisome given the public misperception that hookahs are a safe alternative to cigarettes whereas evidence suggests that they are even more damaging to health than are cigarettes," study co-author Michael Weitzman, said.

Hookahs, also called water pipes deliver flavoured tobacco through water. According to the health experts from Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), hookah smoking is as toxic as cigarettes. The smoke produced by hookahs produces carbon monoxide, heavy metals and several cancer-causing compounds.

Another report from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that smoking hookah for one hour delivers 100 to 200 times volume of smoke delivered by a single cigarette. Apart from that, sharing the same mouthpiece can also increase the risk of transmission of several diseases including TB and hepatitis; and exposure to the second-hand smoke can also pose serious health risks.