Friday, June 30th, 2006...11:18 am

A Guide to Hookah Smoking

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The slow and relaxed experience of smoking a hookah, which includes preparation of the hookah and the tobacco, is the whole point of hookah smoking. It’s not about a buzz or a nicotine fix, it’s about the relaxed space, among friends and out of time, that is created by the hookah and the act of smoking it. Typically, a hookah smoking session lasts somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.

After carefully preparing a clean hookah with cold water, selecting a flavorful tobacco for the bowl, lighting and adding the charcoal, the aromatic hookah smoke is drawn bubbling through the water. Cooled and softened after being filtered by the water, light, pleasant smoke infuses the senses, lingering on the air, encouraging slow meditative breathing and sweetening conversation, games of dominoes, or quiet contemplation and study.

Some techniques used to enhance the experience of hookah smoking are adding ice to the water and chilling the hoses beforehand. The lush fruit flavors of hookah smoke can be heightened by the addition of fruit juice or wine to the water in the base, and both customers and proprietors of hookah smoking lounges regularly combine tobacco flavors to come up with their own special blends.

Some tips and warnings given by veteran smokers include the following: always use the proper charcoal, specifically made for hookah smoking-regular charcoal briquettes cause carbon monoxide poisoning, and charcoal which isn’t low-smoke will overwhelm the hookah smoke; only a very small amount of hookah tobacco is needed in the bowl, since a little goes a long way; if the smoke or flavor are lacking, it’s probably because the coals aren’t hot enough-when smoking for more than half an hour or so, fresh coals will be needed.

Because hookah smoking is, and has traditionally been, a social activity, the etiquette which attends it is important. Some of the rules of etiquette are never to light cigarettes using the charcoal that heats the hookah tobacco; avoid blowing smoke in the face of another person unless they ask–so they can taste the flavor being smoked; since the point of the individual plastic mouthpiece is health and safety, don’t share them; when one person is done smoking but the hookah is still in use, setting a hose directly on the table signifies that smoker is finished and another person may use the hose; when a hookah smoking session is completed, the hoses should be wrapped around the stem; finally, don’t smoke anything but tobacco out of a hookah.

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