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Hookahs are smokin’ hot

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pipe.jpgWho wouldn’t love to visit an exotic location such as Marrakech, Algiers and Istanbul and experience what inspired the photos displayed on penny postcards. Before you grab your passport, bags and empty your bank account, think again. These places are also the names of hookah bars; the latest trend in lounges. Often bearing names of Middle Eastern origin, these lounges are springing up in college towns around the nation.

According to a New York Times article from April 19, 2006, 200 to 300 hookah bars have opened their doors since 2000.

Current Magazine’s Lindsay Funston, journalism major at the University of Oregon, reports that hookahs are based on a 500 year old Arabian tradition. Flavored tobacco, or shisha, is heated by coals and filtered through water in a glass vase before being inhaled through a flexible hose. Depending on the hookah model, up to five people can share a bowl of tobacco at the same time.

According to Funston, students smoke hookahs to relax and socialize with friends. Although the club-like setting and diverse mix of people may be conducive to deserved downtime, Funston’s interview with Thomas Eissenberg, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and director of the Clinical Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory, reveals another theory. Eissenberg said that teens and young adults almost certainly feel the effects that nicotine produces when inhaled. He said the effects are both physical and psychological.

The Web site www.howstuffworks.com describes the effect as biphasic which means that nicotine can both invigorate and relax a smoker.

Co-owner of Hooked on Hookah Ramy Eshak said he intended to maximize the shisha experience since opening his lounge in June 2005. Hooked on Hookah is located at 124 E Cheyenne Rd in Colorado Springs.

“Our main focus here is customer service and smoke quality; quality as in taste and quantity,” Eshak stated. “Basically, we were the first hookah lounge in town and knew it was time to jump in and build a solid clientele base before any other lounges opened.”

Eshak said he has been successful in his venture thus far. Based on customer critiques of various lounges at www.Hookah-Bars.com, Hooked on Hookah’s loyal following and repeat customers attest to Eshak’s determination to offer positive customer satisfaction.

Eshak also confirmed reported customer demographics.
“The typical hookah customers are usually college students, and the majority are age 18 to 21,” Eshak said. “You get older patrons, too, but none younger because the minimum age is 18.”

Eshak’s comments indicate that hookah lounges have filled a niche for test-weary students in search of an alternate weekend gathering spot.

“Our busiest time,” Eshak said, “is Friday and Saturday night between 9:30 p.m. and midnight.”

Eshak said there are flavors that are requested more often than others.
“The most popular is the Starbuck exotic white peach,” Eshak added.
Despite popularity, hookah bars may be effected by various factors.
According to the Northern Colorado Business Report, the statewide smoking ban that went into effect July 1, 2006, has been a double-edged sword for owners of hookah bars.

Hookah bars, cigar bars and any retail tobacco outlets that derive more than five percent of retail sales from tobacco are among the exceptions to the state’s indoor smoking ban. Therefore, lounges such as Algiers in Fort Collins can continue to sell tobacco products and offer the opportunity to smoke hookahs with unusual tobacco blends.
First-hand knowledge concedes that not all hookah lounges are the smoke-filled dens depicted in silent movies.

However, according to Algiers manager Trevor Mead, the media attention has reinforced a negative stereotype of hookah smoking.

In addition, local governments are free to pass more stringent regulations than the smoking ban specifies. As a result, one stroke of a pen could put hookah bars out of business.

Still, the hookah trend continues to grow despite the smoking ban and growing concern in the medical community. Some of the medical concerns were stated in an article published in the April 2007 online issue of Current Magazine. Christopher Loffredo, director of the cancer genetics and epidemiology department at Georgetown University said that scientific tests reported four times the mouth damage as non-smokers for both hookah and cigarette smokers. In addition, the quick-lighting charcoal often used in hookahs may produce higher levels of carbon monoxide.

Furthermore, in a 2006 article of Time magazine, Loffredo said one 30 to 60 minute hookah session is the same as inhaling a pack of cigarettes which include nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar. Loffredo also said that the lower temperature of the tobacco leads smokers to inhale deeply which could cause more damage than cigarette smoking.

Several hookah bar owners disagree with those assertions. Funston reported in the Oregon Daily Emerald, that the Assistant Manager Aleena Schlotzhauer of Hunky Dory Pipe and Tobacco, said that smoking hookahs is definitely healthier than smoking cigarettes.

“There’s only five percent tar and no nicotine. That’s very, very little,” Schlotzhauer said.
Other proponents, as noted in the July issue of Northern Colorado Business Report state that smoking tobacco through a water pipe lessens the amount of nicotine, tar and carbon dioxide.

Hooked on Hookah’s Eshak was optimistic about the hookah trend, but cautions against it losing its mystery and becoming commonplace.

“The trend will continue, but it’s one of those things you can’t have too many of, or it’d be like having a McDonalds on every corner, Eshak said. “Only the best and the finest will last.”

Could the international footprint of hookah bars be suggestive of increased globalization trends? So far, most investors are doubtful of this.

Like the corner malt shop of yesterday, hookah bars are part of the social scene of today’s young adult and fond memories for tomorrow’s middle-agers.