December 11, 2010 - The Oregon Public Health Division is worried about a new trend: Increasing numbers of Oregon teenagers and young adults are trying out water pipes with flavored tobaccos called shisha (Hookah, Hooka, Shisha or Sheesha, and Narghile) and socializing in hookah lounges where smoking is the main activity.
So far, the statewide hookah bar scene is concentrated heavily in the Portland area.
Stephanie Young-Peterson, tobacco prevention coordinator for Lane County, says the proliferation of hookah bars and lounges happens because of a loophole in Oregon’s smoke-free workplace law. “These places are using the ‘smoke shop exemption’ in order to become certified to allow smoking on their premises,” Young-Peterson said. “The exemption says that if 75 percent of the gross revenue of the business comes from the sale of tobacco products and smoking instruments, smoking inside the building can be allowed.”
The original smoke shop exemption was intended to accommodate old-fashioned cigar and tobacco shops “where someone occasionally might want to try a sample” but not linger there specifically to smoke, Young-Peterson said. “But these new businesses understand the exemption and know how to get around it. They’re creating a bar or club atmosphere that targets 18- to 25-year-olds — and even younger kids because research shows they’re not really enforcing the age limits — and that’s what creates so much concern.
From 2008 to 2009, cigarette use had dropped by about 1 percent among 11th-graders in Oregon, according to a clean air compliance study by the Oregon Tobacco Prevention and Education Program of the state Public Health Division. During the same period, hookah use jumped by 3 percent. As part of the study, the Environmental Protection Agency sent people with monitoring equipment into 10 hookah lounges to take air samples; peak fine particle air pollution levels ranged from unhealthy to very unhealthy and, in one case, hazardous.
The shisha used in hookahs comes in dozens of flavors, which mask the taste of the tobacco and makes it seem less like smoking, she said. “But there is a high risk of becoming addicted and then turning to cigarettes, because they are more convenient and accessible. There’s a real misunderstanding, especially among young people, about the dangers of this activity.” (England - smoking a shisha pipe just as bad as smoking tobacco..; Dangers of hookah (waterpipe) smoking - Harvard Mental Health Letter..)
The come-on to the younger crowd is unmistakable, based on many lounges’ online presentations. Al Narah’s Hookah Lounge Website opens to a golden orange page with a picture of a long-haired woman, seen from the back, arms raised above her head and hands pressed together. A series of messages flash past ending with, “We invite you to enter a place filled with exotic and seductive aroma.”
Reference: Hooked on the hooka A loophole in Oregon law contributes to an increase in the popularity of tobacco use by Randi Bjornstad, RegisterGuard.com, 12/6/2010.
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