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Clearing the air: Hookah lounges, pens and the dangers of secondhand smoke

The recent news of some Temecula Middle School students being found with and selling hookah pens on campus will have many parents asking just what this new fad is and whether or not it’s a healthy pastime for young teens.

Starbuzz Hookah Lounge in Temecula (Kerri S. Mabee/SWRNN)

Starbuzz Hookah Lounge in Temecula (Kerri S. Mabee/SWRNN)

The fact is hookah lounges are fast-growing in popularity in Southwest Riverside County — at least a half dozen are currently active in the region.

One such facility, Starbuzz in Temecula, offers a venue for those 18 and older to circle a hookah, laze on couches and enjoy flavored tobacco – or shisha – shared communally at each table.

“This is primarily a social gathering place,” said Starbuzz owner-operator Mo Shaath. “Instead of hanging out, having a beer,  our customers hang out and have a hookah.”

Starbuzz, supported by international corporation Starbuzz Tobacco, offers “a variety of 80+ hookah tobacco flavors in top of the line … hookahs ….  (and offers) a variety of non-alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and hot teas and coffees … candy, snacks, and products for … home hookah needs,” according to their Yelp.com listing.

“Customers can come in, stay for two to three hours and leave not smelling like cigarettes. It’s a completely different experience than smoking,” Shaath said. “Most people who smoke hookah don’t smoke cigarettes.”

Shaath said that all patrons are carded.

“We are 18 and older in here. We also don’t tolerate anyone smoking anything other than our shisha,” said Shaath. “Right after opening, there were a few who tried adding pot to the head, but the aromas alerted us right away and people were kicked out. That’s not what hookah smoking is about.”

The exotic-looking hookahs, made from glass or metal, are water-pipes connected with hoses for users to circle and share water-filtered tobacco smoke, Shaath explained.

The exotic-looking hookahs, made from glass or metal, are water-pipes connected with hoses for users to circle and share water-filtered tobacco smoke. (Credit: iStockphoto)

The exotic-looking hookahs, made from glass or metal, are water-pipes connected with hoses for users to circle and share water-filtered tobacco smoke. (Credit: iStockphoto)

“We sanitize hookahs and tips, and all who come in for a session will receive plastic, disposable tips for their stay,” he said.

There are other hookah lounges in the city and surrounding areas — some operating out of a restaurant facility, serving food until midnight.

“We only provide packaged food and drink, here, and none of it is alcoholic. Many hookah bar owners give hookah smoking a bad name,” said Shaath. “We come from a solid corporation, and took a long time to show the city of Temecula who we were, and what we’re all about. It took awhile; but they approved us. There’s a reason for that.”

As well as the food items, Starbuzz also sells certain hookah paraphernalia, as well as “hookah pens” or e-cigarettes, which are huge sellers.

“There is no tobacco in the e-cigarettes,” said Shaath, “but there is added nicotine. It’s like a patch and contains a flavored vapor, but again, these are only available for those 18 and older.”

Shaath said that these items are not sold to minors.

However, according to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report: “Dozens of Internet sites sell shisha tobacco for home delivery. Online sales make it easier for youth to access tobacco. Major credit card companies agreed not to process online payments for cigarettes, but have not stopped processing payments for shisha.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, there are also significant health risks associated with smoking hookah:

  • Smoking hookah for 45-60 minutes can be equivalent to smoking 100 or more cigarettes.
  • Tobacco used in hookahs (called shisha) comes in a variety of flavors (and) contains the same harmful and addictive qualities found in all tobacco products, including nicotine.
  • Secondhand hookah smoke contains the same cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
  • According to the World Health Organization, people who smoke hookah pipes are at risk for the same diseases caused by smoking cigarettes, including: cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory illnesses and adverse effects during pregnancy.

Ashley Ludwig is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.

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