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Your health up in smoke

How the hookah trend might translate into trouble

 by Lauren Wise
 published on Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tempe resident Paul Romero stirs the tobacco in a hookah at King Tut's Hookah lounge on Apache Boulevard in Tempe./issues/arts/697417
Ashley Lowery / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Tempe resident Paul Romero stirs the tobacco in a hookah at King Tut's Hookah lounge on Apache Boulevard in Tempe.
 

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Bob Marley's soothing voice envelopes the ornately adorned room and the vibrantly colored tapestries adorning the ceiling and walls.

A group of customers, exhaling thick clouds of sweet-smelling smoke, chat and pass around a long plastic hose attached to a glass water pipe that is decorated with gold paint and tassles.

They pass. They puff. They hang out.

Five years ago hookah lounges in Tempe, like King Tut's Cafe (1125 E. Apache Blvd.), were few and far between.

Now hookahs, also known as shisha or water pipes, have been growing in popularity both locally and throughout the nation. They're creating an entirely new trend in American small business, according to tobacco trade magazines and retailers.

But while hookah smoking is rapidly increasing in popularity, some health experts have expressed concern that it may be dangerous for users' health.

Hookah hasn't been proven to be a high-inducing drug, and it is not illegal unless you are under 18. But health experts say it is usually made up of about 30 percent tobacco, and it contains small amounts of nicotine, which can make smokers feel light-headed and relaxed.

Many physicians and researchers say hookah delivers the same toxins and chemicals as other tobacco products - not just addictive nicotine, but carbon monoxide, heavy metals and tar.

"Regardless of how much nicotine flavored tobacco has, it is still tobacco," says Dr. Paul Sieckmann, a family practice physician at Scottsdale HealthCare. "You are still inhaling toxins through your lungs and body."

Sieckmann says many young adults may not realize the health risks of hookah because there has not been much public controversy over hookah lounges.

"The main thing hookah-lounge employees seem to worry about is if a customer is 18 years old, not the risks it poses to your health," he says.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical one-hour session of hookah smoking exposes the user to 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette, and the tobacco still delivers toxic chemicals, nicotine and heavy metals to the body.

The American Academy of Periodontology warns that hookah smokers' risk of gum disease is five times greater than nonsmokers'.

But Melissa Chick, a junior at Scottsdale Community College, says she isn't worried about the health hazards of flavored tobacco.

"I heard that hookah is not as bad as cigarettes, since there is hardly any nicotine. I love it. It is very relaxing," Chick says, lazily reclining on a red floor-cushion with a couple friends. Chick says that her favorite flavor is honeydew-tangerine-mint.

Anthony Puglia, a business junior, is a little more concerned, but not enough to stop smoking hookah. At King Tut's, Puglia sits at an outside table and puffs on cherry-vanilla shisha.

"The hookah bars have warning labels that are similar to the labels on cigarettes, so obviously they pose a big enough risk to be noticed," he says. "Also, I know some of my friends and I wonder if the heated foil used to hold the coals over the flavored tobacco puts any chemicals in the tobacco."

Despite some concerns over health, hookah smoking remains popular around Tempe.

At King Tut's, 21-year-old musician Anthony Gabuzzi lounges on the cushions while puffing on some orange-banana flavored tobacco.

"I come here about once a week with my friends, and it is very relaxing and aromatic," Gabuzzi says.

"I love smoking hookah," he adds. "It's legal and a mellow experience. I own one at my house, but it is more fun to experience the atmosphere at lounges."

Elnaz Bourbour, a waitress at Oasis Cafe (1310 East Apache Blvd.), says she thinks the reason that hookah lounges have become so popular is because students find it exotic and relaxing.

"It seems difficult to find a place in this town that you can sit at for hours, eat a tasty meal and have the option to try something new," she says.

"There are so many bars and clubs, but sometimes students just want to retreat to a place to relax besides their own home," she adds.

But Bourbour says Oasis prints a list of health hazards on a warning label on the menu.

"Anyone can read it and decide not to smoke," she says. "A lot of first-time customers ask about the risks because they are curious, but they usually end up trying it."


Reach the reporter at: lauren.wise@asu.edu.



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