Sometimes called shisha, hookah tobacco, is a blend of molasses, fruit and tobacco. In some countries, such as the Al Waha brand of hookah tobacco from Jordan, honey is substituted for molasses. The Hookah Kings are pleased to carry the Nahkla, Al waha, and El Basha brands.
Hookah smoking involves flavored tobacco, such as pina colada and cappuccino, filtered through water in a pipe and smoked through a hose. It is a common practice for ASU students.
"Young people who are smoking out of a hookah pipe believe it's a safe form of smoking," said David Bower, student health educator at ASU with a specialty in alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Napoly Salloum, 29, is the owner of Red Sea Hookah Lounge and said he averages about 100 customers a night, with about 45 to 50 percent of them being ASU students.
There have not been many studies on the direct dangers of hookah smoking. There is a 1964 surgeon general's report, which mentions hookah smoking contains 50 percent less toxins than cigarette smoking, Salloum said.
Shisha contains .05 percent nicotine and is filtered through a water pipe.
The practice of smoking tobacco through elaborate water pipes called hookahs emerged centuries ago, in the palaces and harems of the Middle East. But experts say hookahs are now almost as popular in Denver as they are in Damascus, with the current fad for water-pipe use growing among U.S. college students.
The hookah, also called nargile, is comprised of four parts -- the head, where burning charcoal heats a bed of tobacco; the body, through which inhaled smoke is drawn into the third section, a water-filled bowl at the hookah's base, and the hose, a flexible pipe through which the user inhales the smoke after it has bubbled through the water.
"What you get, then, is smoke that has been cooled by the water," Eissenberg said. Hookah use is, by its nature, a very social act, with groups of users often sharing the same pipe.
"Water pipes have been around for centuries, but it looks like hookah sales are making a real comeback," Eissenberg said. "They're making a new appearance in the U.S., but they're also coming back in the Middle East. They've also shown up in Germany and Brazil, and in Thailand -- where they were recently outlawed."
The exact number of water-pipe users in America remains unknown, he said, but new users typically discover hookahs in local Middle Eastern restaurants or bars, where they can be rented for short-term use.
"Then later they might say, 'Hey, this would be cool for me to have in my dorm,' and go to the Internet and buy one. They aren't expensive," Eissenberg said.
While traditional Middle Eastern hookah users tended to favor harsher, dryer tobacco, American users prefer maassel -- sweetened tobacco with tempting flavors like apple, watermelon, and licorice.
Hookah tobacco must be smoked with a charcoal, not a flame.
"The upsurge in use of water pipes, here and in the Middle East, is highly correlated with the mass-production of these sweetened and flavored tobaccos," Eissenberg said.
He stressed that the U.S. shisha tobacco fad isn't restricted to fringe populations in cities such as New York or San Francisco. "Washington state, Louisiana, Tennessee, here in Virginia -- it's popping up everywhere," he said.
While cigarette use has largely fallen out of favor with the college crowd, the exotic allure of hookahs -- and the misperception that hookah smoke is filtered and safer -- may be driving the trend.
"We don't want to get caught by surprise," he said. "I think we need to be vigilant when it comes to any new tobacco use method that comes into vogue."