Tracking hookah bars in new york: Utilizing yelp as a powerful public health tool

Philip B. Cawkwell, Lily Lee, Michael Weitzman, Scott E. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: While cigarette use has seen a steady decline in recent years, hookah (water pipe) use has rapidly increased in popularity. While anecdotal reports have noted a rise in hookah bars, methodological difficulties have prevented researchers from drawing definitive conclusions about the number of hookah bars in any given location. There is no publicly available database that has been shown to reliably provide this information. It is now possible to analyze Internet trends as a measure of population behavior and health-related phenomena. Objective: The objective of the study was to investigate whether Yelp can be used to accurately identify the number of hookah bars in New York State, assess the distribution and characteristics of hookah bars, and monitor temporal trends in their presence. Methods: Data were obtained from Yelp that captures a variety of parameters for every business listed in their database as of October 28, 2014, that was tagged as a "hookah bar" and operating in New York State. Two algebraic models were created: One estimated the date of opening of a hookah bar based on the first Yelp review received and the other estimated whether the bar was open or closed based on the date of the most recent Yelp review. These findings were then compared with empirical data obtained by Internet searches. Results: From 2014 onward, the date of the first Yelp review predicts the opening date of new hookah bars to within 1 month. Yelp data allow the estimate of such venues and demonstrate that new bars are not randomly distributed, but instead are clustered near colleges and in specific racial/ethnic neighborhoods. New York has seen substantially more new hookah bars in 2012-2014 compared with the number that existed prior to 2009. Conclusions: Yelp is a powerful public health tool that allows for the investigation of various trends and characteristics of hookah bars. New York is experiencing tremendous growth in hookah bars, a worrying phenomenon that necessitates further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere19
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2015


  • Hookah
  • Hookah bar
  • Internet
  • Public health
  • Yelp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics


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