Hooked on Hookah

Any students who has seen the recent movie Alice in Wonderland, has noticed Absalom the hookah-smoking caterpillar. Seeing a caterpillar doing such is unusual, however CHS students who smoke hookah are far more common.

Hookah, which originated in India and gained popularity in the Middle East, is a water pipe that is commonly used to smoke tobacco or “shisha.” It comes in many different flavors from apricot and cosmopolitan to winter fresh.

Legally, one has to be 16 years old to enter a hookah bar and 18 years old to smoke in one. However, many underage individuals are able to sneak in to the bars and smoke without getting caught.

Freshman Johnny* is one of many students who finds ways to smoke hookah on the weekends.

“[Terms] we use to not make obvious [what we are doing] are hubbly bubbly, goza or borry,” Johnny said.

According to senior James*, who first went to a hookah bar when he started driving a little over a year ago, the majority of people who use hookahs smoke tobacco and marijuana from them.

“I have been to a hookah bar with friends a few times,” James said. “I went to one in Georgetown and Tenleytown.

The District harbors many hookah bars, offering its services to high school 18 year olds, college students and middle-aged adults.

The Observer contacted one such hookah bar, Prince Café, by phone to ask about underage hookah use, but an employee refused to comment, hung up and would not answer four subsequent phone calls.

Most cafés offer their hookah services at $12 for most flavors and $15 for specials, which have more flavor in them.

“I go with my [older] brother,” Johnny said. “He usually has his friends come too.”

Some CHS students have even purchased a hookah online to use at their own convenience.

According to hookah-shisha.com, anyone can buy a hookah for as little as $19.95.

Some students find it more convenient to smoke in their own homes because they feel they have a better chance of not getting caught. However, not getting caught is harder than it seems.

“Fighting, loud and unpleasant,” sophomore Richard* said. “That’s all that I remember [from] when my mom caught me [using my hookah].”

Richard has tried to stop smoking hookah ever since he was caught, but others find that despite the repercussions, there are more reasons to continue smoking hookah.

For some of these students, smoking hookah is just like any other tradition that has been going on for years.

“I’m from the Middle East so I’ve been around [it] since I was born,” James* said.

Others say that smoking hookah is simply a way to get in touch with their culture.

“Its [part of my] culture,” Johnny said. “I do it with [my parents].”

Although hookah brings with it traditions and strong ties to some cultures, it poses several health risks as well.

According to tobaccofreeu.org, in a 60-minute hookah session, smokers are exposed to 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette.

Like many other tobacco products, hookah can cause liver, lung and oral cancers. It also contains high levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals.

In addition, The Mayo Clinic’s website states that the hookah pipes used in hookah bars and cafés also may not be cleaned properly, risking the spread of illnesses.

Many CHS students are aware of these dangers and some choose not smoke hookah.

“[It] reduces your lung capacity [for breathing],” Junior Ben*said. “[I stopped because] I felt there was no use doing it and it was pointless.”