Social smoking: Hookah at Wash. U.
Hookah. You might know a lot about it, or you could have never even heard of it before. Also called narghile or shisha, hookah hails from the Middle East and Asia, where it is traditionally used to smoke tobacco.
Tobacco mixed with molasses, honey or dried fruit is placed in a bowl near the top of the hookah pipe and heated indirectly by a charcoal from above. The smoke is filtered with water before going through the smoking pipe.
If you are interested in hookah, here are a couple of important points to keep in mind. Residential Life has a strict policy against hookahs-if they are found, they will be confiscated and won’t be returned.
Also, according to a report by the American Lung Association released on March 8, hookah isn’t actually any safer than cigarettes. The report found that the water in a hookah doesn’t filter out the carbon monoxide, nicotine and other chemicals found in tobacco, so hookah carries the same health risks as smoking cigarettes.
Still, because of its social aspects, it is likely that hookah will continue to gain loyal smokers. Within the past few years hookah has become considerably more popular with college students, and Washington University’s student body is no exception.
“If you said the word [hookah], I think the majority of people would know what you were talking about,” said junior Travis Gros.
So what’s the hookah culture like at the University? Three words: very laid back.
Senior Shlomo Glotz experiences a similar atmosphere when smoking hookah with friends at his apartment. “At my place, it’s really casual,” said Goltz. “It’s up to each person [to smoke]; I don’t think I’ve ever experienced or seen peer pressure being utilized for hookah.”
And how does one get acquainted with hookah? Although Gros first tried it at a hookah bar with friends, Goltz and junior David Dye have stories that are a bit more exotic.
“I was living in Mahindra [India] with a bunch of other people at this school I went to,” said Dye. “One of my housemates was an Israeli guy who had brought this hookah with him and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Initially, I had no part in it because I was still coming off a six month season racing my bicycle and I had nothing to do with smoking. But it smelled good and everyone was having a good time. Eventually, it was like, eh, give it a try. It was such an enjoyable experience that since then it’s [been] one of my favorite activities.”
Goltz’s introduction to the hookah also came via Israel.
“I took a trip to Israel my freshman year on the Birthright program and we were smoking a lot of hookah while we were there,” said Goltz.
But what does a hookah smoker do in the States, especially Saint Louis? Although a few hookah bars are nearby, most students choose the cheaper option of smoking at home.
A $3-$4 jar of tobacco can last a week at home, whereas a bar charges about $15 for a single session. But cost is not the only reason some students choose to enjoy hookah in their own homes.
“I like staying home; I like inviting people over,” said Goltz. “There’s nothing implicitly bad about hookah bars. I feel like it’s just nice to have a choice of my own music and my own flavors and throw my own flavors together.”
Hookah tobacco, also called shisha, tends to be bought locally rather than over the Internet. Again, cost is an issue.
“[Tobacco] is really easy to get online,” said Dye. “There [are] numerous Web sites that sell it, but it’s almost always cheaper to buy it locally.”
The most frequently mentioned source of hookah tobacco was The Loop’s HSB Tobacconist at 6362 Delmar Blvd.
“It’s just really convenient and the prices are reasonable,” said Goltz of the store. “The selection is not great, but it’s gotten better.”
One of the store’s improvements is that it now sells jars with screw-on lids. Goltz noted that such lids keep the tobacco fresher for a longer time.
The other local place for hookah tobacco and for the hookah itself is Al-Tarboush at 602 Westgate Ave.
“Al-Tarboush has a really wide selection [of tobacco],” said Dye. “It’s all [reasonably] priced, often less expensive than it would be online. Not that I’m trying to promote the place, but it seems like the hub for hookah activity around here.”
Regardless of where it is enjoyed, smokers recognize hookah for its social potential.
“It’s a very inclusive social activity that pretty much anyone can do,” said Dye. “Even if you’re sitting around, everyone is going to be chatting and having a good time.”
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