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The hook of hookah

Hookah usage is a centuries-old activity that can be traced throughout Eastern history, yet it has attracted the interest of college students today.

Whether at a hookah lounge, at home or outside one’s dorms, the smoking pastime is rapidly growing in popularity.

According to a Florida Adult Tobacco Survey, the amount of Florida adults who have smoked using a hookah increased from 5.7 percent in 2007 to 8.6 percent in 2009.

For Floridians ages 18-24 it was even higher at 24.2 percent.

Though the use of hookahs has expanded as a trend in recent years, it has recently concerned some health officials. From there, the argument is raised on whether to smoke or not to smoke.

A hookah is a water pipe used to heat and smoke shisha – a flavored tobacco mixture inhaled out of tubes attached to the hookah. The, usually glass, pipe is heated with coals and flavored with tastes from acai berry to white grape.

Many hookahs connect numerous pipe tubes to the stem so more than one person can smoke at a time. The water pipe is said to create a smoke that tastes substantially milder than cigarette smoke to the throat.

Today, the word hookah is used as a verb as well – meaning to smoke with a water pipe – or to refer to the substance.

According to Google Maps, there are nine establishments within three miles of USF’s Tampa location that offer hookah or hookah accessories.

Manny Franco, a senior majoring in theatre performance, manages the Blue Lizard Hookah Lounge on East Fowler Avenue five nights per week. He said students frequent the lounge for smoking, socializing and studying.

“The hookah provides a good alternative to the club scene, (and) the hookah is somewhat secondary,” Franco said. “I mean, the hookah is important, but it’s not everything.”

The Meridian Hookah lounge on North 56th Street offers a darkly lit hangout that stays open until 3 a.m.

The lounge was founded in 2004 by Marc Karimi, a USF graduate. Since then, Meridian has opened another location in Orlando.

After paying an $11 cover charge with a student ID, students can smoke unlimited hookah. The lounge also admits non-smokers for $5 to sit on plush couches, watch smoke rings and listen to indie-rock playlists.

As far as the smoking substance itself is concerned, Franco said that he thinks hookah tastes better and smoother than other varieties of smoking.

When it came to hookah usage, Franco said he’d note the policy of “anything in moderation,” and that it could be healthier than other tobacco forms because it isn’t addictive.

“With hookah, you don’t have to run out between classes to get your hookah fix like you would with cigarettes,” Franco said.

Dr. Kalyani Derasari, of USF’s Student Health Services, said she disagrees with the idea that hookah is less dangerous than cigarettes.

“Hookah smokers inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers because of large volumes of smoke in one smoking (session),” she said.

Derasari said the hookah also contains high levels of tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and carcinogens.

“Just like cigarette smoking, hookah smoking is linked to oral and lung cancers and heart diseases,” she said. “Additionally, hookah pipes may not be cleaned and may transmit infectious agents.”

In a Science Daily article, Georgetown University researcher Christopher Loffredo said, “People who use these devices don’t realize that they could be inhaling what is believed to be the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in one typical 30-60 minute session.”

Yet, as the hookah’s popularity expands, so do the options for partakers. Blue Lizard offers 20 flavors of non-tobacco shisha, which is a blend made with tea leaves.

Taylor Patterson, a sophomore majoring in education and a member of the USF Women’s Soccer team, said she would not be smoking hookah on any nights out. “As an athlete, I know that smoking hookah would be detrimental to my health,” Patterson said. “It’s not something I have tried or ever plan to try.”

Sarah Lenhart, a sophomore majoring in education, said she uses lounges like Meridian for a relaxing environment to hang out with friends – and doesn’t worry over the health concerns.

“I don’t think the health effects outweigh the other positive aspects,” she said.