Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Hookahs Are So Hot, They're Cool

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Hookahs Are So Hot, They're Cool

Article excerpt

As the bus passed some restaurants on Edgware Road in London, a teenage boy slouching on its upper deck--not at school, and it was too sunny to be wearing a hooded top--sat upright. Pointing to a group of Arabs smoking water pipes at pavement tables, he said to his friend: "Man, we must come back to this place--hookah pipes. They're bad."

Hookah pipes are "bad". Not even the likes of Christine Hamilton and Charles Spencer being seen smoking one has reversed their rise in cool. It may be old sages who puff hookah at home in the east, but in Britain younger Arabs, joined by non-Arabs, have blown new life into the 500-year-old contraption. With smokers increasingly feeling uncomfortable lighting up in the same space as non-smokers, hookah bars offer guilt-free tobacco in rooms where everyone's at it. Also known as a shisha(North African), a narghile (Lebanese) and a hubble-bubble (Hampstead), it is considered a more laid-back, some even say healthier, experience.

Yet the government's planned smoking ban makes no such distinction. The intention is to outlaw smoking, as of 2008, in places where hot food is served. Arabs in Britain have long known this would include their post-prandial water pipes, and Edgware Road restaurateurs predict the death of their Little Beirut. People will either stay at home to smoke, and eat there, too; or private clubs, with private fees, will spring up. "This government says it wants to understand us and our community ... but this will just drive my customers behind closed doors," said one restaurant owner. …

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