As a young adult, it’s your right and privilege to explore, experiment, and even abuse substances and stimulants. Whether I endorse it or not, that is an undeniable truth. With the legal parameters of cannabis and tobacco always up for debate and under the microscope, alternative means of enjoying smoked products are constantly being invented and repopularized by Canada’s youth.
Of these the hookah and its countless flavoured tobacco variants (shisha) have been appropriated yet again by our generation. It proved to be an alternative to the existing methods of consumption that have dominated our parents’ generation and been the target of so many recent licensing and indoor-smoking bans.
Why? There is a certain and undeniable Persian vanity to that dates back to the 1560s. Yet, perhaps more importantly, there is the essential social element. Unlike with most tobacco products, the use and existence of hookah lounges are quite often exempt from the smoking by-laws prominent throughout Canada that limits the consumption of tobacco in public environments and venues.
Naturally, this varies by city. In Toronto, for example, the use of traditional shisha was banned in the Smoke-Free Ontario Act of 2006. This forced the closure of a number of water pipe smoking establishments while others were forced to switch to tobacco-free shisha under the presumption that the tobacco-free variant offered a safer substitute to other tobacco products. This is, of course, a misconception. With the exception of nicotine, tobacco-free shisha offers a number of the same toxins as its alternative while the sheer volume of smoke ingested through hookahs (whether with tobacco or tobacco-free shisha) heavily outweighs that of other smoking methods.
Regardless, as of 2012 an estimated 80 venues offer hookah services whether it be as a pub, restaurant or dedicated hookah lounge.
But for those who partake, the health ramifications are easily outweighed by the social environment that these lounges offer. Rather than being cut-off and kicked outside for a cigarette, hookah bars offer a shared, communal space free of the growing social stigma that surrounds the consumption of other tobacco products. They offer a chance to explore, try, and experiment with different shisha blends. They allow you to compare your thoughts with those sharing the table’s hookah in an environment free from condescending side-glances and freezing street corners.
Hookah lounges are a time-honored tradition and quickly becoming a favourite among Canadian youth. So go ahead, give it a try!