DOWNEY - With Downey's landscape growing rapidly, the introduction of a whole new genre of youth culture has been introduced to the city that's raising many questions - hookah bars.The city of Downey now has two hookah bars that have opened within the past few months - Mosaik Hookah Lounge and the Hookah Time Café - increasing the allure of the mysterious activity for Downey and its surrounding cities' citizens. Hookah bars, open to adults ages 18 and older, have been a part of the young adult social scene for many years. Often times, young adults attend hookah bars as a way to gather with friends and inhale the often flavored tobacco in a relaxed and calming atmosphere. While this activity - that's still mysterious to many - seems to be on the rise, hookah actually has ancient origins. Hookah smoking's initial traces have been found in the North Western provinces of India, and trace back to sometime in the 15th Century, if not earlier. The activity is still largely a social activity in the Middle East and is a heavy part of their culture - as it's becoming here. The activity is gaining popularity within the United States and is becoming a large part of the college social scene. The allure of the flavored smoke, which comes in flavors such as strawberry, sour apple and mint, combined with the private, darker atmosphere that the lounges provide, allow a legal escape for young adults. Hookah, also known as a waterpipe or narghile, is leaving many teens and adults alike with questions concerning what exactly hookah is, and the health risks it poses. A hookah is a water pipe that contains a smoke chamber, bowl, pipe and a hose. While many believe that hookah is safer than cigarette smoking, according to an article by WebMD, hookah smoking can actually be more dangerous due to the volume of smoke that the participants inhale in a single session. The tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe, and the water in the hookah does not filter out the toxic ingredients in the smoke, according to the article. Hookah smoke also poses second hand smoke exposure, dangers to expecting mothers and can spread oral infection through the sharing of a mouthpiece. Downey High School graduate Katelyn Catt participates in hookah and acknowledges the negative side effects, but has her reasons for engaging in the activity. "Hookah is definitely a relaxing past time, and although it seems like it may be less harmful than cigarettes, it most definitely is worse," she said. "I enjoy it because it doesn't hurt my throat or lungs in the same way that a cigarette does. It's relaxing, and the smoke isn't harsh." Joe Hill feels similarly, and adds that the inviting atmosphere plays a large part in his decision to participate. "I feel that hookah relaxes you," said Hill, a Downey High School graduate. "It gives you some kind of head stimulation that I enjoy, and at the hookah lounges they also tend to incorporate music which I like." While some raise questions as to whether it is a positive addition to Downey's nightlife, Catt and Hill feel that this will actually help their peers stay away from more dangerous activities or drugs. "Although I think there are definitely some concerns with having a hookah lounge, I think overall it's perfectly fine," said Catt. "When I was in high school I was constantly at a party on a Friday or Saturday night, and I'd much rather see the youth of Downey at a hookah lounge than out doing some of the things I saw my classmates doing, such as underage drinking, smoking pot, etc. If they are 18 or over, then it's just as legal, and should be just as acceptable, as legally having a drink." Hill had similar feelings. "I think that the Downey hookah lounges' are a positive addition to the city of Downey," he said. "It gives people above the age of 18 something to do and keeps people interested in staying in Downey for the weekend. It also keeps people out of serious trouble." Whether choosing to engage in hookah or not, being aware of the health risks is important. The following three facts from a usatoday.com article summarize some recent and surprising statistical findings. • Thomas Eissenberg, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and co-author of a hookah study, says a hookah, when smoked for about 45 minutes, delivers 36 times more tar than a cigarette, 15 times more carbon monoxide and 70% more nicotine. • A study in the Journal of Periodontology found that water pipes smokers were five times more likely than non-smokers to show signs of gum disease. • In a June 2004 study, Jane Henley, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, found that men who smoked water pipes had five times the risk of lung cancer as non-smokers. While the negatives are clear, Downey's own Hookah Time Café is doing all that they can to make their customers satisfied and safe. They proudly serve their hookah out of new hookah pipes, offer servers for every table and give each guest their own disposable mouthpiece. Whether you're jumping into the hookah social scene or engaging as an observer, being aware of the health risks is important, as well as weighing your own personal pros and cons of participating in the activity. Said Catt: "My relationship with hookah is a love, hate one."
********** Published: August 11, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 17