When FIU graduate student John Cibotti finishes a long day, he sets up his custom-built hookah for a smoking session at home. The 29-year-old, whose studies focus on South Asian religion and Middle Eastern studies, has evolved into a hookah aficionado with his expensive equipment and nightly routine.
Cibotti calls it his “reward” because it helps him relax, but science says it’s the nicotine telling his brain that “all is well.”
Flavored tobacco for hookah (aka waterpipe) comes with a similar amount of nicotine as the tobacco found in cigarettes, and with that, a dependence on the substance. It also carries dramatically higher levels of carbon monoxide and smoke exposure.
To take a deeper look at the dangers and assess the impact that hookah tobacco has on smokers, the Department of Epidemiology at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work recently unveiled the first clinical research laboratory for tobacco smoking in South Florida.
The Stempel College research team— Wasim Maziak (principal investigator), Dr. Ziyad Ben Taleb (project director) and Mayra Vargas-Rivera (lab manager)—are the first to evaluate this highly addictive and misunderstood tobacco use method in a clinical lab setting, as its popularity grows statewide and nationally—especially among youth.
“While I’ve never smoked cigarettes, I was interested in learning about the effects hookah tobacco has on the body,” said Cibotti, a participant in the study. “I would quit if enough information came to my attention, and I’m actually reducing how frequently I smoke anyway in this process.”
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