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by Peter Moskos

January 20, 2015

Is this what Prohibition was like?

So there's something very odd about this:
According to the [New York City] Department of Health, New York University students were dispatched to gather shisha from of 13 hookah bars; after samples were analyzed, it was found that all 13 samples contained tobacco.
Well I should hope so! You might find the same if you analyzed a pack of Marlboro Lights. The article goes on:
"To know that tobacco was smoked inside these establishments, exposing hundreds to the dangers of secondhand smoke, is troubling," Merle Myerson, the director of the Mount Sinai Roosevelt and St. Luke’s Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program, said in a statement.
"To know that tobacco was smoked inside these establishments..."? These places are tobacco smoking bars. You might not like it. It might not be legal. But don't be shocked. It's not even like these places are even speakeasies. They're shisha joints. That's what you do: smoke tobacco.

"Shisha" is tobacco smoked from a water pipe. Always has been. Always will be. (And hookah is just another word for shisha, though linguists and Arab-snobs like to look down on the more western childish word "hookah". The brits sometimes call it "hubbly bubbly". The Greeks call it "nargilé," but gave up on it a while back, a few hipsters notwithstanding).

There is a strip of shisha (and other middle-eastern) joins a few blocks from me, on Steinway Street. At least one of these shisha places has been here since long before me. Interestingly, though, most of the shisha joints appeared after the smoking ban took effect in NYC circa 2003. Most are still probably legal because smoking is permitted if (at least as I understand it) most of their income (80%?) comes from tobacco sales (an exception that was really meant for rich cigar bars). So yeah, if they also sell beer or dinner, it's probably not allowed. But what shouldn't be an issue is what "those people" are smoking. It's not Soylent Green. It's tobacco!


Mordanicus said...

Indeed they could have known that the Sisha contained tobacco, just by doing a little search on the Internet.

Moskos said...

This is like being shocked the bars sell beer, right?

Kyle said...

Wait, bars sell beer?!