COLUMBIA — A hookah lounge, where patrons can smoke flavored tobacco through communal waterpipes, will open Friday at 32 N. Ninth St.
The 9th Street Hookah Lounge reflects a Middle Eastern tradition that is rising in popularity across the country, particularly in college towns.
Lawrence, Kan., has three hookah bars, for example, and lounges can also be found in Madison, Wis.; Ames and Iowa City, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; and Norman, Okla.
Columbia's lounge will have sectionals and tables that create seating arrangements for shared hookah smoking. The room will be decorated with mock fireplaces, area rugs, mirrors and flat-screen TVs.
“We wanted ours to be a little more upscale,” said Buck Jennings, co-owner of the lounge with his partner, Marcia Davis.
Jennings will run the lounge while Davis continues her career in Illinois as a director of finance at The National Personal Training Institute.
A hookah is a waterpipe used to smoke flavored tobacco commonly known as shisha. The base of the hookah is a bowl filled with water. When a smoker inhales through the hose, the smoke filters through the water, which makes it cooler.
The tradition originated in the Muslim world and is typically part of family celebrations and holidays.
Columbia's 3-year-old smoking ban does not apply to hookah lounges. Businesses that sell tobacco as the primary retail product are exempt from the city ordinance.
The primary source of revenue at the Ninth Street lounge is designated as tobacco and hookah accessories, which allows the exemption.
To maintain its status as a tobacco retailer and not a restaurant, however, the lounge cannot sell food or beverages. Patrons can provide their own nonalcoholic beverages, but they must be at least 18 years old, the legal smoking age in Missouri.
While smoking hookah is thought to be less harmful than other tobacco products, such as cigarettes, health officials say that it is not.
“Because the hookah is cooled, people inhale a larger volume of smoke than with cigarettes,” said Traci Harr, coordinator of the Columbia Tobacco Initiative Program.
An hourlong smoking session is equivalent to nearly 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke in one cigarette, according to the World Health Organization.
Harr suggests looking at World Health Organization information on smoking hookahs to make an educated decision.
Those worried about the health risk factors of smoking flavored tobacco can try the six flavors of tobacco-free flavored molasses the lounge will offer as alternatives.
Harr also pointed to the possible transfer of disease from sharing the mouthpiece on the hose as a potential risk. As a more hygienic alternative, 9th Street Hookah Lounge will supply patrons with a free, disposable mouthpiece.
Zachary Hagy, an 18-year-old MU freshman, said he was introduced to hookah while living in Singapore.
“They are very popular and are everywhere there,” he said.
Hagy, who owns his own set of hookahs and plans to try the new hookah lounge, said smoking hookah is “enjoyable and sociable.”
Jennings and Davis are still working out details of cost and hours, but so far the lounge charge will be per person, and the lounge will be open during the evening.