Hookah hits Rochester Hills

By Andrew Wernette

It is past 8 p.m. on a Friday night, and a thin vapor hangs amid the dim-lit air. From the corner comes a distorted bubbling sound as one person inhales from his pipe. Club music plays softly in the background.

This is Grizzly Hookah Lounge, an establishment that opened in May 2013 down the street from Oakland University. It is a favorite place for students in the area to hang out and socialize.


Who you callin’ hookah?

Hookah is a term, among many others, given to a water pipe where smoke is filtered through a water chamber before being inhaled into a user’s mouth through a flexible hose. Typically, the substance smoked is shisha, or flavored tobacco. The combined effect produces a flavored smoke that is more smooth and enjoyable than from other smoking activities.

The origins of the hookah have been traced back to ancient India and Persia, from whence it spread to the Middle East. Now the activity is gaining popularity among younger people in the United States, especially with college students.

“It’s like family around here,” Phalvann Hang, 25, said. Hang’s favorite shisha flavor is spiced chai with vanilla mint.

Hang is a Psychology student at Oakland University. He reclines on one of the plush leather sofas and draws on his hose, then exhales the white smoke from his mouth. His friends sit around him with their own hookahs, joking and laughing.

Hang began going to Grizzly Hookah Lounge in August 2013, and has been a regular ever since. 

“I come here and do homework from time to time,” he said, though the lounge serves as more than just a study area.

Hang and his friends seem to know and greet everyone that walks into the lounge. One of them is Joey Nassar, another OU student.

“It’s welcoming, it’s relaxing,” said Nassar of the lounge. His favorite flavor is double apple.

“It’s pretty much a nicer version of the library,” he said.

Nassar is a junior in Operations Management at OU. Like Hang, he also likes to go often to study and socialize.

“It’s a mix of hanging out and doing homework,” he said.


Health risks

“It’s spreading like crazy,” said Rachel Yoskowitz, speaking about the growing popularity of hookah cafés nationwide. Yoskowitz is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences in Community and Public Health at OU. She was, among other titles, Director of Education for the American Lung Association of Minnesota.

She does not have a favorite flavor of tobacco.

Yoskowitz said that, despite common perception, hookah smoking is not safer than cigarette smoking. She said that smoking tobacco from a hookah for one hour is equivalent to smoking 12 cigarettes, and health risks associated with the latter, like lung and mouth cancer, still apply. She also says that there is a risk of bacteria spreading between two or more people that share a pipe, creating a cross-contamination.

“It’s a delivery system,” she said.

Yoskowitz is not alone in her concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Lung Association (ALA) both label hookah smoking as an addictive and potentially harmful activity. Although the amount of research on its effects is little due to its relatively recent popularity, the organizations claim that links have already been made between hookah smoking and health problems. Even passing the smoke through water does not filter out harmful agents, they said.

The ALA says that one hookah session is equivalent to consuming more than 100 cigarettes, which goes well beyond Yoskowitz’s figure.

Joe Hirmiz and Mike Ishaiz are cousins and co-owners of the Grizzly Hookah Lounge (their favorite flavors are double mint and melon dew and mint, respecttively). Both of Middle Eastern descent, the hookah is a part of their culture. They do not consider the activity as harmful.

Hirmiz said that the lounge began as being popular with adults, though more young people have started coming in. (They turn away anyone who is under 18 years of age.) He said that everyone is like family here.

“I get customers from locals, so I’m doing pretty well,” Hirmiz said.

Ishaiz agrees. “The most enjoyable thing is to meet the people from diverse cultures,” he says. He mentions hookah’s continued popularity in other cultures and its social atmosphere. Ishaiz also talks about the joy of satisfying his customers with quality products.

“That makes the hard work worth it,” he said.