Dear Straight Talk: My 17-year-old son just left for the "hookah bar." He said this is a popular social activity where you sit around outdoors smoking flavored tobacco from a shared water pipe.
He says he's been going to this club for almost a year. What exactly is this "hookah" trend? Isn't flavored tobacco now illegal? And don't you have to be 18? He insists it's no big deal, but I'm worried he will develop a tobacco addiction and start smoking cigarettes.
- Mom in Oroville
Liva, 20, Oakland: What will soon be illegal are flavored cigarettes, but flavored tobacco (hookah) is totally legal. Yes, you must be 18, but many hookah bars only card the person who "buys" the hookah, not the friends who attend with that person. People smoke hookah because it's fun and tastes delicious. I've smoked a reasonable amount and am not addicted to nicotine in any form.
Nicole, 19, Arcata: I went to hookah bars for years when I was in high school. It was the place to be. Yes, you need to be 18 but most clubs don't card. I do smoke cigarettes now, perhaps because of these bars. Let your son know that innocent as smoking hookah seems, it can lead to serious cigarette addiction. And even though the smoke is filtered, it still isn't good for you.
Peter, 22, Monterey: Smoking hookah is like taking a mouthful of flavored fog. It's smoother on the lungs than cigarettes, cigars or pipe tobacco and I've never gotten even buzzed from it. It's a way to relax and chat with friends.
Brie, 18, Ashland, Ore: It's a social thing. I've smoked hookah quite a lot and have never smoked a cigarette or had a tobacco craving of any sort.
Ashley, 21, Auburn: I already smoke cigarettes so I don't know if hookah is addicting, but it definitely does not get you high.
Lennon, 22, Fair Oaks: I've smoked hookah occasionally and have never felt addicted to it. There is a slight high you can achieve by taking several hits in a row, but that's from lack of oxygen. Hookah is popular because the smoke is filtered and cooled (it goes through ice-water like a bong), so you can inhale without feeling an inkling of a cough. However, I've stopped smoking it heavily because I wake up feeling hung-over.
Mariah, 17, Collinsville, Okla.: I've never heard of a hookah "bar" - but the people I know who smoke from a hookah aren't smoking tobacco!
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