The New York Times's Long War on Water Pipes

They're not a healthful cigarette alternative, the paper scolds repeatedly

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College students, let The New York Times be very clear: hookahs are not a risk-free alternative to cigarettes. Despite the newspaper's best efforts, the fact still hasn't sunk in: young twentysomethings seem to think that an occasional puff from the water pipe isn't as harmful as a cigarette drag. So, the Times will issue friendly reminders until the message is received.

Last night, we learned that a 20-year-old Kevin Shapiro hasn't caught on to the fact that smoking tobacco in a different form is still unhealthy. The Times gently chided him the way it has done for years, noting that, "in fact, hookahs are far from safe. ... because a typical hookah session can last up to an hour, with smokers typically taking long, deep breaths, the smoke inhaled can equal 100 cigarettes or more." This is the latest in a series of reminders since the paper noted that hookahs became "a bit of a craze" nearly a decade ago.

In 2006 the paper reported on undergrads who liked to smoke the night before tests as an alternative to drinking or doing illegal drugs. It noted that "despite perceptions, hookah smoking is not healthy." In 2007 a shaggy-haired young man with a no-cigarettes t-shirt was illustrated alongside an article whose "bottom line" was "hookahs can be just as hazardous as cigarettes." 2008 brought a research revelation that men thought smoking hookahs was "cool," despite the hazards involved. In 2010 the Times found that young people still clung to the notion that hookah's were "safer" than cigarettes. "Wrong," proclaims the headline. Each time, the paper appears surprised that few are heeding the warning.

Which brings us back to Kevin Shapiro, who despite years of presumably reading articles on this, has decided that he doesn't really care: "Considering I don't do it that often, once a month if that, I'm not really concerned with the health effects." Your move, Times.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.