Last week, many read the Philadelphia Inquirer’s spread on hookah bars in its Feb. 22 issue. The Middle Eastern water pipe has been found in a few Philadelphia restaurants for years, but the trend is now picking up some serious steam. Yet hookahs could either offer a unique pastime or another unhealthy hobby.A hookah is an elegant and ornate glass pipe with a long snake-like tube attached – a smoking device. It contains three main ingredients: water, flavored tobacco and coals. Born out of the Middle East, it is meant to soothe and relax. Many restaurants over the years have been using them as conversation pieces. Decoration and mood are major factors in a hookah setting. Hookah bars and restaurants are often dimly lit with comfortable couches meant to fit groups, and lavish throw-blankets and tapestries. The ethnic atmosphere and the hookah as a socialization enhancer stand as the real draw.Indulging in an activity that is typically quieter than the headache-inducing club and bar scene would be beneficial for college students. We live in a society where youths believe excitement is directly connected with volume. This is perfectly presented during dinner hours in the lobby of the Johnson and Hardwick Cafeteria. The calm and slow-paced activity of smoking the hookah would teach the early-20s crowd to sit back, relax and enjoy a conversation with their friends.The exposure to a different culture would be beneficial. The Middle Eastern decor in these venues is unlike anything seen in most restaurants or bars. The music generally played in hookah bars would be a refreshing switch from the mindless musings of the currently popular Sean Paul. Indulging in the pastime of another culture that is different from ours but has a great presence in our current times would provide a valuable education.But don’t get caught up in the apple, vanilla and rose flavored fog too fast. Just because it’s cultural doesn’t mean it comes without a price. The World Health Organization says that hookah smoke contains carbon monoxide and nicotine and warns that users run the risk of developing cancer and heart disease, among other ailments.At least the hookah doesn’t contain the chemicals that are found in cigarettes, but neither cancer nor heart disease are enticing, no matter how relaxing the activity is. WHO estimates that if a person smokes the hookah for an hour, he would intake as much smoke as he would from smoking anywhere from 100 to 200 cigarettes.Becoming more health-conscious as a disgustingly unhealthy nation should be paramount, even to cultural exposure. Smoking the hookah in extreme moderation would be wise, and they aren’t as lethal as cigarettes. Unfortunately, culture or health must be sacrificed. We could just watch, but then there’s always second-hand hookah to worry about.
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