Hookah Bars and Teens

Close up of hookah with young male in background
Evening of the Hookah by Jordan Gillespie is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Although Hookah is an ancient form of smoking, I didn’t hear of it until college, when several friends preferred it to traditional cigarettes. In recent years, popularity of the water pipe has taken off, perhaps because it is seen as a healthier alternative to cigarettes (which is not necessarily true). A recent study found that 18% of high school seniors had tried hookah in the previous year. That number is much higher than previous estimates of 4-5%.


A hookah is a water pipe, typically used for smoking tobacco products. Often, the tobacco will be flavored. The hookah’s origins can be traced to ancient Persian and Indian cultures, but in the US, its popularity has grown the most among college students. According to the report mentioned above, the typical teenage hookah user was a white male with well-educated parents. (That certainly describes the majority of the people I knew in college who smoked it!)

Users also tend to have a steady source of income, whether that is a weekly allowance or from a part time job. This is likely because a hookah is typically smoked in a bar or lounge, where regular use could become expensive. Using a hookah is traditionally a communal activity. Even when it is not shared in a lounge, it is often smoked with others, with the hose of the pipe passed from person to person.

Local Use

How popular is it locally? A quick search for hookah bars near Amplify’s office found 7 within a fairly easy drive in the Western Suburbs. The various liberal arts colleges in DuPage County likely offer plenty of target clientele for the hookah bars, which consequently become easily accessible for local high school students. Should parents be aware of what hookah is and where their child might access it? Absolutely! DuPage County offers all the right demographics for a growing hookah trend.


Why concern yourself with this trend? For many, using a hookah might not seem like a big deal. It’s very nature tends to limit its use to occasional, communal settings rather than the constant pull of cigarettes. Nevertheless, since the vast majority of hookah use involves tobacco, the same health and addictive risks apply to hookah as to other forms of tobacco. For teens, those risks are greater. Teens’ brains and bodies are still forming and are more prone to addiction.

Another concern comes from the clustering of risk behaviors — teens who smoke a hookah are more likely to smoke other forms of tobacco, drink alcohol, or try other drugs. And then there is the concept of a “gateway” vice. Hookah tends to be most appealing to those kids who have higher incomes and more highly educated parents, and those who themselves are pursuing higher education. In other words, hookah is a vice for the “good kids” to feel okay about trying. So talk to your teen about the health and addiction risks of smoking, even smoking a hookah pipe. Let them know your thoughts.