Hookah Smoking and Bars Flourishing

Michael L. Weitzman MD Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine NYU Langone Medical Center

Dr. Weitzman

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Michael L. Weitzman MD
Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine
NYU Langone Medical Center.

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Weitzman: While the prevalence of cigarette smoking in the United States has recently seen a steady decline, more and more individuals report hookah (water pipe) usage. Researchers have shown that web queries for ‘hookah’ and ‘hookah bars’ have increased dramatically, but it is unclear whether this interest has led to an increase in the number of hookah bars in a given area.  We first tested the website Yelp.com to see whether it could reliably provide us with information – such as the date of establishment of a hookah bar – by comparing the date of the first review written on Yelp.com with the actual opening date. We found that, for 2014 onwards, the first review posting on Yelp.com, on average, occurred within the first month of a hookah bar’s opening date. Additionally, we found a dramatic increase in the number of hookah bars in New York City over the past 5 years. These hookah bars tend to be not randomly distributed, but instead clustered near universities and specific ethnic neighborhoods.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Weitzman: Clinicians would be wise to recognize the emerging epidemic of hookah smoking. Given that approximately one in five high school students reported using hookah within the past year, this is an especially critical topic for pediatricians who may be able to impact behavior change. Our study adds to the knowledge base by showing an increasing density of hookah bars in New York City, a worrying fact that may be of interest to parents and researchers alike.

Medical Research: Specifically, what role do you see for Yelp and other social media outlets in future public health research?

Dr. Weitzman: A key finding from this study is that public health researchers have new powerful tools at their disposal – Yelp can help to identify trends and pinpoint where these changes are taking place. There is much still be learned about how researchers can use other social media outlets, such as Twitter, to better understand population-level behaviors. There is also the need to better understand the impact of hookah smoke on both the users and workers and these hookah bars.


Cawkwell PB, Lee L, Weitzman M, Sherman SE

Tracking Hookah Bars in New York: Utilizing Yelp as a Powerful Public Health Tool

JMIR Public Health Surveill 2015;1(2):e19

DOI: 10.2196/publichealth.4809

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Michael L. Weitzman MD (2015). Hookah Smoking and Bars Flourishing 

Last Updated on December 11, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD