FRIDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- A rapid rise in hookah use in California is cause for concern, researchers say.

A hookah is a water pipe used for smoking tobacco. An analysis of state data showed that hookah use among all adults in California increased by more than 40 percent between 2005 and 2008.

In 2008, hookah use among young adults aged 18 to 24 was much higher (24.5 percent of men, 10 percent of women) than it was among all adults (11.2 percent of men and 2.8 percent of women), said the researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.

Hookah smoking was most common among whites with at least some college education, the investigators noted.

The rise in hookah use may be due to the fact that it's a social activity and the mistaken belief that it's less harmful than cigarettes, the researchers suggested.

"Though public indoor cigarette smoking is banned throughout California, hookah use is permitted in designated lounges," study author Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy, an associate professor and chief of the division of global health in the department of family and preventive medicine, said in a UCSD Health Sciences news release.

"More specific studies are warranted but we urge policymakers to consider laws that would ban hookah lounges, thus eliminating the implication that hookah smoking is safer and more socially acceptable than cigarette smoking," Al-Delaimy said.

"This rise is particularly alarming because it's happening in California, a state that leads the nation in tobacco control. While cigarette smoking has decreased nationwide and in California, reports of ever using hookah have increased, especially among adolescent and young adults," he added.

The study was released online Aug. 18 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hookahs.