A 2,000~year~old social experience

By Brooke Thacker

Imagine a low-lighted restaurant, filled with tables, chairs and comfortable leather sofas. There are a few groups of young people, probably college students, talking and laughing, gathered around a tall, thin instrument with smoke coming out of a small tube.

   A hookah is a device used to smoke tobacco. The tobacco sits at the top of the stand with a piece of foil separating it from the charcoal that heats it up. The smoke filters down the first pipe into a water bowl at the base of the stand. From there, the smoke goes through a second pipe where the user can inhale.

   “Smoking a hookah is more of a social gathering purpose than anything else,” Parviz, manager of Vibe Bistro and Hookah Lounge, said. “Now when you’re sitting with your friends and they are smoking, and you would like to actually join them, as in partaking, that [shows] you’re part of the group.”

   For those that do not know, hookah originated in India some 2000 years ago. It then spread through the Middle East and eventually found its way to the United States. “It is mostly centered in Lebanon now,” Parviz said.

   There are also several different types of hookahs: Syrian, Egyptian and Persian. According to Parviz, the Syrian hookah is made of crystal; the Egyptian hookah is handmade and tends to last longer; and the Persian hookahs have a wooden stem and a metal base with no air vents to release the extra smoke.

   When a person smokes a hookah, he or she steams the flavored tobacco with the charcoal. There is more a person can do to make the smoke his or her own, though.

   “You can add cream to make the water thicker, juice, alcohol or Coke to the water. It gives it [smoke] a different flavor,” Parviz said.

   The tobacco itself also has a flavor, which is mostly a fruit-type. Some people even mix the tobacco flavors to create their own special hookah tobacco. Producers of hookah tobacco normally put in a sweetener like honey or molasses to the original tobacco and then boil the concoction, Parviz says.

   Knowing now a little more about the smoke, the question is why people use hookah here in Bridgewater.

   “I go to Firetop [in Harrisonburg] to smoke hookah,” said a BC sophomore. “I’ve been going since freshman year, but I first tried hookah in my junior year of high school.”

   Like Parviz, this student describes smoking as a social experience. The instrument is brought out at parties among groups of friends to bring them all together.

   “I go to Firetop on Thursdays because it’s college night for JMU students with great deals,” junior Gina Gibson says.

   Gibson goes almost every Thursday and has for the last two or three years. She also describes smoking as a social experience normally done within a social setting.

   However fun it may be, hookah can lead to serious health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s fact sheet about hookah, it still delivers nicotine into a person’s body and smokers may absorb high concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke. One hour of smoking a hookah can give the smoker 100 to 200 times more inhaling volume than that of a cigarette. Hookah smokers are still at risk for cancer, decreased lung function and decreased fertility.

   Even if a person does not smoke, but is around it, he or she can still have health risks. The charcoal used to heat the tobacco releases carbon monoxide, which is hazardous. In addition, sharing the hose to smoke hookah can transmit infectious diseases between the group.

   “I know that even though it is mostly tasteless and the smoke seems so light, it is still a harmful tobacco,” the sophomore said. “I do not always fully inhale, even though that does not avoid all of the dangers of it.”

   Gibson said she is aware of some of the risks of hookah, but not all of them.

   Parviz grew up around hookah and has family members who do smoke. Looking at the can of hookah tobacco, Parviz says there is no tar and 0.05 percent nicotine in the tobacco.

   “There’s not much addiction. However, it is a smoke after all. You’re inhaling it and it depends on your different activities and lifestyle. If you do sports, it could cause you shortness of breath,” Parviz said.

   Whether or not a person wants to try this Middle Eastern practice is completely up to him or her. Keep in mind though, since hookah is a type of tobacco, a person must be 18 years old to purchase it. Do be informed and aware of what you partake in. If you want a traditional hookah experience, go to the Vibe Bistro and Hookah Lounge located at 1588 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg. They are open 6 p.m. through 12 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 6 p.m. through 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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