Mention the word “bar,” and most people think of a place to get a drink. Now it can also mean a place to get an exotic smoke.
Hookah bars, which offer the Middle Eastern method of smoking tobacco through a special water pipe, have become more popular in the Kansas City area, where many see it as a more social way of lighting up.
A hookah is a water pipe that is used to smoke shisha, a tobacco that is covered in molasses and flavors that can range from mixed berry, pineapple, coconut rum, double apple and hundreds of others.
Jason Ballou, who owns Jaskki’s Tobacco Café in Kansas City, said that like many other trends, hookah started on the East and West coasts and spread toward the Midwest.
“Basically hookah bars have been in Kansas City for the past five to six years,” Ballou said. Nationwide, hookah bars have been around seven to 10 years, he said.
The art of smoking hookah originated in the Middle East. “Hookahs are literally everywhere in the Middle East,” said Ballou.
Nas Alazzeh, a manager at Jerusalem Café in Kansas City, said he has been seeing plenty of old and new faces coming in to the café’s hookah bar and becoming regulars.
“It’s getting popular and it’s a very social thing to do,” Alazzeh said. “Doing hookah is something to do and it’s a great way to just sit down and talk and have good conversations.”
Wil Piercey, an associate at Outlaw Cigar Company, said people like the way hookah smells compared to a cigar, cigarette or pipe.
“It has that fruity sweet smell that is not an overpowering form of tobacco smoke,” Piercey said.
Hookah’s growing popularity has helped it evolve evolved “from a thing to do into more of a legitimate sector of the tobacco industry,” Ballou said. But with that growing popularity has come a growing concern about hookah’s safety.
While research about hookah smoke is still emerging, evidence shows that it poses many dangers, according to Richard D. Hurt, an internist and director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic.
In a posting on the clinic’s website, Hurt said that tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe, and that that water in the pipe doesn’t filter out the toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke. Hurt said hookah smokers may actually inhale more smoke than cigarette smokers do because of the large volume inhaled during a typical smoking session, which can last as long as an hour.
But while its health effects are being debated, it’s certain that hookah smoking has developed a growing following in Kansas City.
“I don’t like to compare smoking cigarettes to smoking hookah,” Alazzeh said. “People do it for the flavor and don’t get addicted to what’s in the tobacco.”