What happened to the hookahs?

A large group gathered at the picnic table outside Huden one evening. Conversation and laughter billowed from the middle of a group of Castleton students as did clouds of grape smelling smoke. In the center of the circle of smokers was a vase-style glass that looks like something out of your grandmother’s basement, but with hoses running from it to teach smoker’s mouth.

It was an intricately crafted glass blown hookah, and this scene played out daily on campus at the beginning of the semester.

But that was over a month ago. Now the hookahs that had been seen on every lawn on campus are banned. An e-mail sent Sept. 15 to all Castleton State students from Dean of Students Greg Stone, made it clear that the hookah fad must be put to an end.

Others agreed.

“This is an affirming of our policy,” said Dennis Proulx, director of residential life. Proulx, Stone, and the rest of the administration and Student Association say that students smoking hookah pipes on campus could be a detriment to the Castleton State public image.

For those who didn’t see the smoking groups or have never heard of the hookah, it is an ancient water pipe originating from Eastern culture. Often the tobacco is flavored with choices ranging from molasses to pineapple. It has a base, the glass vase-looking part that holds the water, a pipe, which is the body of the hookah, hoses, which smokers inhale the sweet smoke from, a bowl made of clay that holds the coal and tobacco, a coal tray, and coal.

Though most often hookahs are used for smoking tobacco, they can be used to smoke marijuana and therefore have been deemed on the Castleton campus, and on several other college campuses around the country, “drug paraphernalia.”

Proulx and Stone both said that it’s too tough to determine whether students are smoking tobacco or other organics from the hookahs. On page 22 of the CSC Student Handbook it is stated “Drug paraphernalia is not allowed.” According to Stone, hookahs and other types of water pipes fall under this category.

But there are several CSC students who disagree with the decision to ban hookahs. Roy Mercon, a junior at Castleton, e-mailed Stone after getting the campus wide e-mail saying hookahs were banned.

“Sure, it can be used for smoking marijuana,” writes Mercon, “but, if you are creative, water bottles and soda cans can also be used. Where’s the line?”

And many students are asking the same question. Several have brought up the point that if hookahs are banned, cigarettes and cigars should be banned as well. After all, both are just different ways of smoking the same tobacco that is being smoked from the hookah.

“On one hand tobacco is allowed, on the other hand drug paraphernalia is not,” said Proulx. The two contrasting rules make the issue a hot topic across the Castleton campus.

It’s a Culture.

Mercon argued in his e-mail to Stone that “a hookah is the perfect social medium.” And his point is one that has been brought up on several occasions.

The smoking of hookah began as a social medium in the Middle East. It has snowballed elsewhere in the world, including the United States, into a cultural phenomenon over the past few years mostly among teens and young adults. Hookah bars and cafés have popped up all over the country. In fact, since the recent efforts to get smoking banned in all public establishments, some of the tobacco venues have received a pass. Because a significant amount of their income is from the sale of the tobacco products, the establishments qualify under an exemption to the anti-smoking law.

Dobra Tea in Downtown Burlington was previously an establishment that allowed its customers to join in the smoking of the flavored tobacco while sipping on over 60 types of tea from all over the world.

Students here at Castleton argue that the college should jump on the cultural band wagon and set the standard for other Vermont state colleges and even colleges outside the state. One freshman in favor of keeping hookahs around urged Stone to reverse his decision using the argument that, as a first-year student, smoking hookah on campus had allowed he and several other students to meet in a social setting.

Stone says he supports finding social mediums.

“I wish I could have found a way to support this group’s social meetings,” he said. “I just didn’t think we could do it with hookah.”

How about your health?

Despite the common belief that the smoke is filtered by the water in the pipe, it is, in fact, no safer than smoking a cigarette. According to Thomas Eissenberg, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and the co-author of a hookah study, “Every risk of smoking a cigarette is also associated with water pipes.”

And in some cases, the side effects are more severe. According to his study, smoking from a hookah for 45 minutes delivers 36 times more tar than one cigarette, 15 percent more carbon monoxide, and 70 percent more nicotine.

The damage to a hookah smoker’s body does not end there. A hookah smoker is five times more likely to show signs of gum disease than a non-smoker and five times more likely to be diagnosed with lung disease than a non-smoker.

A change in the future?

Rumors spread like wildfire across campus the first two weeks of school that an incoming Castleton student was starting a hookah club. Proulx said he had heard of no such club, but anyone looking to start a hookah club is going to have to wait until policy is changed.

However, the administration urges students that if they want to see a change in the policy to approach the members of the student association. If the Student Association and the Faculty Assembly support the arguments made by the student body and support a change in policy, that change would most likely be made.

However, few efforts to reverse the decision have been made. Stone said that of all the students that he sent the e-mail to, only four either responded via e-mail or met with him and to his knowledge, no one had approached the Student Association regarding the issue.

The administration is aware that the hookah is not the root of all evil, but that doesn’t mean the ban will go away anytime soon.

“There are some strong arguments,” said Proulx. “But right now our arguments are stronger.