By Miriam Raftery
October 26, 2010 (Spring Valley) Despite disapproval of two County agencies and community groups, the County’s Planning Commission gave the thumbs up for an Alcoholic Beverages commission (ABC) license allowing beer at Blue Flayme, a new Hookah lounge in Spring Valley. The Commission overturned a decision by the Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU), which opposed the license.
Hookahs have been linked to serious health hazards. Now, the new trend of combining Hookah smoking and alcohol consumption locally has many in the community up in arms.
“It concerns me that we just banned smoking cigarettes in almost every place possible, yet now you can smoke tobacco in another form and skirt the law,” say Debra Gilly, a Spring Valley activist. “It also concerns me that more teens are getting involved with this activity and combining it with alcohol is a recipe for disaster.”
Hookahs have been used in the Middle East for centuries. Now the influx of Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees has led to a rise in hookah lounges locally, with some becoming popular hang-outs around colleges and even high schools. The smoker places a piece of sweetened tobacco in flavors ranging from banana to mint in the hookah’s head or bowl, then covers it with foil and lighted charcoal. Smoke is then inhaled through a long hose.
“What it comes down to is that they’re smoking sugar,” Firas Haddad, owner of Sinbad’s hookah lounge in Pacific Beach told the Union-Tribune. He said tobacco used in his hookahs had only 0.3 percent nicotine and no tar. Other advocates of the practice maintain that hookah smoking is a social and cultural practice that should not be regulated.
But serious health concerns have been raised by credible health experts over hookah smoking.
"Hookah smoking is not safer than cigarette smoking," the Mayo Clinic website states, noting that:
- As with cigarette smoking, hookah smoking is linked to lung and oral cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
- Hookah smoking delivers about the same amount of nicotine as cigarette smoking does, possibly leading to tobacco dependence.
- Hookah smoke poses dangers associated with secondhand smoke.
- Hookah smoking by pregnant women can result in low birth weight babies.
A 2005 report by the World Health Organization documented potential health hazards, noting that “a typical 20-80 minute hookah session, a person may take 50-200 puffs of smoke, and that each session produces about as much smoke as the amount received from smoking 100 cigarettes.” WHO also found that smoke from hookahs contain high levels of toxic compounds including heavy metals, carbon monoxide, and cancer-causing chemicals.
In a 2006 article titled “Hookahs a health hazard?” the San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed Dr. David Burns, a University of California, San Diego professor of family medicine who was an author of the WHO study as well as several U.S. surgeon general’s reports on tobacco.
Burns concluded that hookah smokers also face “the additional risk of transmitting communicable diseases by sharing the tips of the pipes.” Those range from the common cold to potentially lethal conditions such as hepatitis.
East County residents raised concerns beyond direct health impacts of hookah smoking combined with alcohol consumption. The area that the Spring Valley Hookah lounge will be in was designated a high crime district by the Sheriffs Department due to calls for service. The parking lot is already home to two other ABC licenses and is within close proximity to fast food establishments and Monte Vista High School.
Concerned parents and residents noted that public safety issues associated with over-saturation of alcohol include driving under the influence (DUI), domestic violence, assaults, and unplanned pregnancies.
“Does Spring Valley just want to approve every ABC license because the economy is tough?” This question was asked by Marilyn Wilikinson, a community member. “We have to remember that once an ABC license is in place, it is there for good.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that DPLU approved the license. It was the County Planning Commission that granted approval, overturning a decision by the DPLU.