- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Elly Silie of Atlantic City ended her 25th birthday with a night of drinking and a stop at Infusion Lounge at 2nd and Market streets for some hookah.

Clad in sleek, black dresses and heels, her and her friends entered the lounge where half-naked women adorned with body paint walked about. Once seated in the back, the group billowed smoke from a hookah pipe while snapping pictures, laughing and celebrating. Silie used to smoke cigarettes, but now, it’s nothing but hookah.

“It’s more for the taste and the smoke,” she said. “It’s like having a cigarette without having an actual cigarette.”

“It’s an alcohol enhancer,” added her friend Sonji Helena, also 25, of Atlantic City. “You take two shots, you take a couple (drags) of the hookah, and you’re drunk.”

Silie and her friends are part of a growing trend in which young adults are trading cigarettes for water-pipe hookahs - these glass, vase-like containers attached to metal pipes that are stuffed with flavored tobacco, then heated and inhaled through hoses on the devices.

A centuries-old Middle Eastern tradition, hookah smoking has taken off in the United States since 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Among adults ages 18-24, about 24 percent smoke tobacco products, and 2.5 percent of them smoke hookah - higher than any other adult age group, according to a CDC report published in June that observed trends in tobacco smoking from 2012 to 2013.

The shisha effect

Brian King a senior scientific adviser at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said a lot of the appeal of hookah smoking comes from the novelty of the product. The variety of flavors is what draws users in, he said.

Shisha, a molasses or honey-based tobacco mixture used for hookah smoking, comes in every flavor from a simple mint to an alcohol-free fuzzy navel.

Hookah lounges also offer the option to mix multiple flavors to create something completely unique. This is different from cigarettes, King said, because selling any other flavor aside from menthol is illegal.

Hookah smoking is “a little more relaxing,” said Anya Moreles, 25, of Atlanta, who smoked at Infusion recently. “Of course, you smoke this longer. When a cigarette’s out, you got to light a new one. It’s more of a social, fun thing.”

Some also said they believe hookah smoking is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

“Honestly, in my experience, cigarettes are way worse,” said Tony Sawan, owner of Fez Moroccan-a hookah lounge and restaurant on 2nd Street near Bainbridge. “I used to smoke cigarettes. I can smoke a hookah and play seven games of basketball, but if I smoked a cigarette, I couldn’t even go up the steps.”

Fady Nawwar, owner of Luxor Cafe & Hookah Lounge at 45th Street near Walnut, won’t allow cigarette smoking in his establishment because he believes hookah is king. He says there’s something different about a hookah. It’s “not something people can get addicted to,” he said.

The health factor

While hookah smoking is growing in popularity, the CDC says there are real health risks to be considered before indulging.

The CDC reports that some of the danger of hookah smoking lies in the smoke, which because of its combustibility, releases the same toxins that cause tobacco-related cancers and diseases.

An hour-long hookah smoking session can last up to 200 puffs, exposing users to diseases like oral, lung and stomach cancer as well as decreased fertility, according to the CDC.

In addition, the CDC says the nicotine in the tobacco smoked in the hookah can become addictive.

Hookah smokers at Infusion Lounge said recently that they are aware of the risks, but aren’t concerned because they “don’t do it all the time.”

They’re cashing in

Why hookah smoking has only caught on recently, it’s hard to say. Though, experts speculate that it’s a result of an influx of Arabic immigrants bringing their traditions to the United States. The Arabic population in Philadelphia County has more than doubled from 4,701 in 2000 to 11,510 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Whatever the reasons, businesses are catching on and cashing in.

There are about 40 hookah lounges in the city, according to the city’s Department of Public Health. Each one caters to patrons who pay anywhere from $20 to $30 to smoke hookah.

Along South Street, shops display hookahs of all sizes - ranging from $40 to $250 - for household use, and also sells “portable” hookahs, usually in the form of $10 to $20 pens that don’t need heat to produce smoke but use a form of syrup or liquid instead.

“It’s taking off in Philadelphia,” said Joe Cappello, an employee at Artifax tobacco shop in Rhawnhurst.

“In the past two years, the (sales) of electronic cigarettes and hookahs have tripled.”





Information from: The Philadelphia Daily News, https://www.phillydailynews.com/

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