A smoking good time

Hookah lounge coming to Hagerstown will provide 'oasis' for patrons, owner says, and little nicotine

Hookah lounge coming to Hagerstown will provide 'oasis' for patrons, owner says, and little nicotine

October 28, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Say the word "hookah" and people get the wrong impression, said Hamada "Ham" Abu-Zayyad, who plans to open Oasis Hookah Lounge & Cafe at 53 S. Potomac St.

Abu-Zayyad, 32, of Frederick, Md., said the problem is that many people don't know what a hookah is and assume that it implies something illegal or seedy.

In actuality, Abu-Zayyad's hookah lounge will serve meat pies and Mediterranean desserts and offer the use of a hookah - a water pipe used for smoking flavored tobacco or flavor-infused apricot leaves called "herbals."

No alcohol will be served at the lounge, Abu-Zayyad said.

Because at least 10 percent of the lounge's income would rely on smoking, the business would be exempt from the state smoking ban, which takes effect in February.


"I want people to have a (place) where it's really an oasis, when everything else is like the desert," Abu-Zayyad said.

Abu-Zayyad, who is from Israel, came to the U.S. in 1998.

"This culture changed my life," Abu-Zayyad said. "So I wanted to offer something from my culture."

What is a hookah?

Water pipes such as hookahs have been used in Africa and Asia for at least four centuries, according to information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The pipes look like tall, slender decanters made of glass and metal, with a bit of water at the base and tubes extending from the neck.

Flavored tobacco is burned by a coal at the top of the hookah pipe and is filtered through the water. The smoker inhales through a mouthpiece at the end of the tube. Several tubes can be attached to the hookah.

The tobacco takes 45 minutes to an hour to burn, hookah smokers said.

In Israel, Abu-Zayyad said, "people might smoke a hookah while watching football (soccer), much like in America they might drink a beer."

Smokers find hookahs more relaxing and better tasting than cigarettes.

"When you leave, your clothes will never smell like cigarette smoke," Abu-Zayyad said.

Health concerns

Health organizations acknowledge that hookah smokers take in less nicotine than cigarette smokers, but they also warn that the low nicotine content can project a false notion that hookahs are safer than cigarettes.

According to the WHO, the water in the hookah pipe does absorb some of the nicotine, but there is still a sufficient amount of the drug to cause addiction.

Hookah smokers consume more smoke than they would if they were smoking cigarettes. A WHO report stated that a hookah smoker could inhale as much smoke in one hookah session as a person who smoked 100 cigarettes, which might result in increased exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Abu-Zayyad said he's taken into account the health concerns by offering the nicotine-free herbals and by equipping his lounge with smoke filters, which he said will help keep the air cleaner.

The hookah scene

Hookah smoking has increased in popularity in the United States, Brazil and European countries since the 1990s, particularly among college students and young people, according to a recent WHO report on tobacco product regulation.

The hookah scene in the United States is not the same as the Middle East's, Abu-Zayyad said.

Take for example the late-afternoon atmosphere at Mirage Caf and Grill, a hookah bar in Frederick, Md. Flat-screen televisions played pop music sung in Arabic. Customers sat scattered at tables reading books sipping beverages, some without hookah pipes.

Shawn Otto, 26, of Frederick, a laptop-wielding University of Maryland senior, sipped sage tea and smoked a hookah while working on his 15-page economics paper, due the next day.

He said he didn't know much about hookah before visiting Mirage.

"I don't even smoke cigarettes," Otto said.

Danielle Paggi, 20, of Frederick, a waitress at Mirage, said she did smoke cigarettes but had never heard of hookah before her friend took her to Mirage. She's been working at Mirage since July and now smokes hookah instead of cigarettes.

Paggi and Otto said the appeal comes from the taste.

"It's a relaxing thing to do," Otto said. "It tastes good, a lot better than cigarettes."

Mirage serves fruit-flavored tobacco (like peach, strawberry and grape). "We can also mix the flavors," Paggi said.

Abu-Zayyad said "double-apple" is a popular flavor among Mediterranean men. Women like to smoke peach.

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