What is it Like at a Hookah Lounge?

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What is a Hookah Lounge?

Hookah lounges are commercial establishments where people gather to smoke flavored tobacco from a hookah pipe.

Other names for hookah lounge includes hookah bar, hookah cafe, hookah den and shisha bar.

Originating in India and spreading to several Middle Eastern countries, traditional hookah lounges are coffee houses that also serve hookah. Out of deference to Muslim traditions, they do not serve alcoholic beverages.

As hookah bars have gained popularity in western cultures over the years however, many do now serve alcohol along with food and a variety of tobacco flavors.

What is a Hookah Lounge Like?

Hookah lounges in the U.S. today are often decorated in trendy, modern themes to appeal to young patrons.  You may or may not find alcohol in these places, but many of them are set up to serve it, along with live music.

Hookah is often smoked in small groups, so you'll probably find the lounge is able to accommodate that with bean bag chairs or comfortable couches grouped around the hookah table. That said, lone patrons can order hookah for one, as well. If another person wants to join in later, an additional line is simply added to the hookah pipe.

You might also be able to buy oxygen, which is another unusual offering gaining recreational popularity. Oxygen is typically bubbled up through flavored waters to be breathed in for a period of time.

 The flavorings give the oxygen a pleasing aroma, and fans of oxygen sniffing claim it helps with everything from energy boosts to hangovers. There is no science to back it up though, and those selling it are careful not to make medical claims about recreational oxygen use.

What is the Air Quality Like in a Hookah Lounge?

Researchers from Johns Hopkins studied the air in several hookah lounges over a 9 month period.

 In particular, they measured nicotine and carbon monoxide levels, along with particulate matter in hookah smoke smaller than 2.5 microns.

Their findings showed that the air in enclosed spaces where hookah is smoke is laden with carbon monoxide and breathable particulate matter from the tobacco smoke in concentrations that are higher than in public spaces where cigarette smoking is allowed. Nicotine content was not as high, but was measurable. 

Hookah Lounges in the United States

Hookah lounges have sprung up around college towns in the United States. While smoking bans have become more strict with increased public awareness, hookah bars seem to be an exception with their ability to obtain indoor smoking permits. Other tobacco establishments that are allowed smoking permits are cigar bars and tobacco purveyors.

Young people have taken to them, in part because it's considered to be a unique and acceptable way to socialize with friends, but also because there is a misconception that hookah is a safe way to smoking tobacco.

See also: Is Hookah Smoking Safe?

The first hookah lounges in the U.S. were coffee/tea houses that served immigrant communities. Hookah was an additional offering at these establishments, not the main focus.  

That all changed when The Hookah Lounge opened its doors in Las Vegas, Nevada.   As the name suggests, hookah was the primary offering, but alcohol and Middle Eastern food were also served. The Hookah Lounge attracted mostly men of Middle Eastern descent initially, but that changed over time. Today, The Hookah Lounge has two locations in Las Vegas.

Others emulated the winning formula, calling their establishments hookah lounges as well.  There were law suits filed to protect the name,  but it was a futile effort because hookah lounge was so widely used it became a generic term that described the hookah experience rather than a specific place.

The owners of that first hookah lounge in Las Vegas took to calling themselves America's Original Hookah Lounge in ads to differentiate themselves from others.  They can be found at hookahlounge.com. 

Other countries have also seen an uptick in hookah lounges. Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and United Kingdom all have hookah lounges and they've even gained popularity in Russia.

In Summary

It is a mistake to think that hookah is a safe way to smoke tobacco, and that just because hookah lounges exist, they too, are safe.

Tobacco is inherently dangerous for your health, whether you are smoking it or using a smokeless variety.  Additionally, all tobacco products contain nicotine, so it is also addictive.  The best way to steer clear of the risks is to avoid using it in any form.

Ready to quit?  

Start here: Quit Smoking 101 - An Educated Quit is a Successful Quit


Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Study: Baltimore Hookah Bars Contain Elevated Levels of Carbon Monoxide and Air Nicotine. http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2014/study-baltimore-hookah-bars-contain-elevated-levels-of-carbon-monoxide-and-air-nicotine.html. Accessed February 2016.

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