Through the smoke, Americans experience Middle Eastern culture

Growing from a Middle Eastern cultural activity to an American recreation, smoking hookah has combined the two cultures.

Originating in Northern India, Hookah was invented in the 1500s along the border of Pakistan. Hookah was used, and is still used, as a way to relax and socialize.

“[Smoking hookah] is a very cultural thing,” said Alissa Jouni, owner of Beirut Hookah Lounge in Portland. “I would be on my front porch with my family smoking hookah on a nice summer day. We’d do it when we had guests over or even if it was just me and my grandma when we wanted to relax.”

The process of smoking hookah is different from smoking cigarettes and other types of inhalants. It begins with a water pipe, which has a bowl piece filled with shisha. Shisha is made of tobacco or herbs mixed with molasses or honey. Coals are then placed above the shisha, drawing the heat and flavor into the water bowl. From there, smoke can be inhaled through a hose.

With the growing popularity of smoking hookah and going to hookah lounges, the question of hookah’s health issues arises.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking hookah can have the same effects as smoking cigarettes. Though this may be true, there are also many options for non-tobacco products that are used in smoking hookah.

While inhaling smoke is never a good thing, smoking hookah is often labeled as different than other types of smoking.

Smoking hookah can have the same effects as smoking cigarettes, but people have a tendency to smoke hookah less frequently. Due to its size, hookah is more difficult to transport than a pack of cigarettes.

“It doesn’t get you high or anything like that,” Jouni said.

Jouni went on to explain that the environment of smoking hookah can sometimes draw attention from other types of drug use. However, Jouni says that her hookah shop works to keep drug use away.

“We have a strict policy concerning other drugs and alcohol,” Jouni said, explaining that if caught with alcohol or other drugs, patrons will be asked to leave.

Since the popularity of hookah has grown, lounges and cafes have opened up all across the United States, including several around the Northwest. Popular in larger cities and college towns, the fad has hit hardest among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

Although the public has had concerns in the past about the use and sale of hookah products to minors, laws enforce that you must be at least 18 or older to smoke hookah.

“I like going to hookah lounges with my friends. Its just a fun place to hang out and just to talk,” freshman Ashleigh Hatcher said. “The environment is just relaxing and everyone is having a good time with their friends. You’ll never see someone alone while smoking hookah.”

The growing popularity of smoking hookah has developed from the spreading of cultures, and this is a mix of Middle Eastern and American traditions coming together.

“We have a lot of people coming in, most being Americans,” Jouni said. “With people smoking hookah, they get a little taste of Middle Eastern culture.”

Kaylyn Peterson
/Sports editor
Kaylyn Peterson can be reached at

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