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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Hookah culture stays big part of Tucson, UA”

    Lisa Beth Earle/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Alhareth Alhosani, and industrial engineering sophomore, and Mohammed Balarti, an accounting freshman at Pima Community College, smoke hookah at Espresso Art on Tuesday, July 13. They go to Espresso Art to smoke hookah everyday.
    Lisa Beth Earle
    Lisa Beth Earle/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Alhareth Alhosani, and industrial engineering sophomore, and Mohammed Balarti, an accounting freshman at Pima Community College, smoke hookah at Espresso Art on Tuesday, July 13. They go to Espresso Art to smoke hookah everyday.

    Apparently, the blue caterpillar blowing smoke rings at Alice was years ahead of his time. Restless teenaged adventurers are finding their own kind of sweetly-scented wonderland in Tucson, with the establishment of Smiley’s Ultimate Hookah Lounge in 2004 and, more recently, Medusa’s Hookah Lounge in 2009. But the popular pastime still has its skeptics.

    “”What’s the point? Maybe people just like playing with smoke. Replace hookah with cake and you’re golden,”” said Ben Fink, a political science and economics sophomore.

    Prior to 2004, Sarah Smiley, co-owner of Smiley’s Ultimate Hookah Lounge, was also a nonbeliever. When her husband and business partner, Roger Smiley, first broached the idea of opening the lounge, she hesitated.

    “”I was a little skeptical at first. I had never smoked hookah before. When I did smoke it, I didn’t care for it the first time,”” Smiley said. “”And there’s always a risk to opening a business.””

    Hookah is essentially a vase-like water pipe, in which a tube passes through water to cool the smoke from the burning shisha, a tobacco with no tar and little nicotine that comes in various flavors, like apple and mint.

    Sarah Smiley grew more confident after Roger invented his glass screen, which he claims eliminates many of the toxins that pass through the foil. Sarah Smiley said using the glass screen kept her from becoming nauseated while she smoked.

    “”I didn’t get sick to my stomach,”” she said. “”Suddenly I was like, ‘I actually enjoy smoking.'””

    She added that it was sweet and “”dessert-flavored.””

    The duo took the plunge in 2004, serving shisha first in the Iron Horse Historic District on Ninth Street, then on Fourth Avenue before settling in at Smiley’s current location at 728 N. Stone Ave. In the past six years, Smiley’s has seen a considerable amount of success, which Sarah Smiley attributes to UA students.

    Smiley, who grew up in Tucson, explained that there had always been little for anyone between 18 and 21 years old to do, and that hookah provided safe, legal entertainment.

    “”It’s a nice way to reach out to the community,”” she said.

    Andrew Alejandre, a computer engineering sophomore and a customer at Medusa’s Hookah Lounge, owns his own hookah, but said he enjoys going to lounges because of the social aspect.

    “”Hookah lounges are awesome places. People feel comfortable enough to start conversations with the strangers sitting next to them,”” Alejandre said.

    Smiley said hookah tends to broaden students’ horizons. Although hookah has seen greater popularity in the United States only in recent years, the practice is a Middle Eastern tradition that is centuries old. The staff at Smiley’s Ultimate Hookah Lounge welcomes new customers to try smoking hookah and learn about its history, and they typically have positive results.

    “”Over the years, people have become more comfortable with other cultures and the UA has such a diverse cross section of students. People are curious,”” Smiley said.

    According to its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that smoking hookah for one hour causes a person to inhale 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette. Hookah comes with the same risk of lung, oral and stomach cancer as cigarettes, but smokers feel that it is better than cigarettes because hookah is not as chemically addictive.

    “”Hookah doesn’t fulfill a nicotine addiction since it contains so little nicotine. The craving to smoke hookah is completely social,”” Alejandre said.

    Smiley’s caters to the 18-to-21 age group to provide them with entertainment that is safe and legal, as opposed to the alternatives of underage drinking or smoking marijuana.

    “”Hookah night was a way for me to sit with my friends and talk about what happened during the school week and the troubles I was facing. I was not the only one having problems and stressing,”” Alejandre said. “”People just sit back, talk and relax.””

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