One Hookah Session = 100 Cigarettes?

In New York City, a pack of cigarettes costs $12.50, bulked up with city, state and federal taxes. In Abu Dhabi, a pack costs less than $1.

Cheap cigarettes give the tobacco industry easy entry to low and middle-income countries, where 80 percent of smokers live. The reluctance of poor nations to tax tobacco products contrasts with the United States and other wealthy nations, where high taxes have proved to be the single most effective tool to discourage smoking.

The growing popularity of new tobacco products like e-cigarettes and hookah has flummoxed policymakers, said Dr. Scott Sherman, a New York City physician who researches tobacco for New York University Abu Dhabi. He cited a fledgling body of research that shows much higher levels of nicotine ingested from the trendy products than traditional cigarettes.

Sherman said one water pipe session lasts 60-90 minutes. That’s the equivalent of smoking anywhere from 10 to 100 cigarettes at one sitting, according to early research. “Is it 100 or 10? Either way, it’s bad. That can’t be a good thing to be smoking even 10 cigarettes at one time,” he said.

Flavored tobacco for water pipes has made hookah much more attractive to people aged 18-30. “This is seen as a cool thing to do among young people.”

Yet few existing laws governing traditional cigarettes apply to the new products, from taxation to age restrictions – a loophole that Sherman said tobacco sellers are exploiting.