DEARBORN — With recent studies in the city of Dearborn finding a connection between air pollution and higher than usual rates of asthma, it also doesn't help that younger adults in the area have been practicing a habit for years now that's slowly affecting their health: Smoking the hookah, or as the proper term that's used around Dearborn, the argileh.
|Left to Right; James Corsi, Belal Harajli and Amen Chehab. PHOTO: Samer Hijazi/TAAN|
Within the last 10 years, the cities of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights have seen dozens of hookah lounges open their doors for business and a handful of restaurants around the area expanding their menus to include it. Many of these lounges have become go-to spots for young adults, attracting business by advertising the argileh for a low price.
With the recent ban on smoking in restaurants by the state of Michigan, many of the businesses in the area were hit with an obstacle. Either they become a restaurant that only serves food or become strictly a hookah lounge. Despite the restrictions laid down by the Wayne County Health Department, many business owners have been able to find ways around the law.
Mango's Café on Warren Ave in Dearborn, for example, has opened up a takeout restaurant next door to encourage customers to place orders while smoking their argileh on their patio. Midnight Express on Greenfield Rd has become a hookah lounge, but that doesn't mean that customers still can't walk over next door to the owner's other spot, Lava Java, which has become a food-only zone.
"You can't beat smoking an argileh in Dearborn," said Ruby Braich, 23, who lives in Canton and goes to school at the University of Michigan Dearborn. "It's more of a socializing event and you can get food."
Still, that doesn't mean that some businesses haven't been completely neglecting the new laws.
In the year since the smoking ban has been established in the state, the Wayne County Health Department has received over 675 complaints from local residents regarding restaurants violating the laws.
According to Carol Austerberry, the Director of Environmental Health for the Wayne County Health Department, of these complaints, a total of 16 fines have been issued. In comparison, Oakland and Washtenaw County have issued zero fines.
"Even though there's been a good movement, this community has not benefited as much from the smoke free air laws," said Manal Said, who holds the position of coordinator for the Community Health & Research Department at ACCESS. "We hear many community stories of restaurants neglecting the laws, but nothing is done because it's become such a norm."
Whether or not local businesses are to blame for the habit, it doesn't mean that some aren't lighting up their charcoals elsewhere.
"Smoking helps me relax," said Amen Chehab, 21 of Dearborn Heights, who says he smokes an argileh almost every single day at his house. "I go through at least two heads in one sitting."
Chehab, like many other young adults around the area, gathers with his friends almost every day of the week at one of their houses to play card games, light a bonfire and have smoking sessions with multiple argilehs that could last for hours.
"It's something to do with your friends when just sitting around," said James Corsi, 21 of Dearborn Heights. "I love to see all the smoke."
ACCESS, the nonprofit organization based in Dearborn, has recently caught wind of this growing phenomenon and has set up an entire project dedicated to educating the youth about the dangers of argileh smoking through their Substance Abuse & Prevention program.
According to research done by the organization, smoking argileh in a 60-80 minute session is equivalent to smoking up to 100 cigarettes. On top of that, it contains carbon monoxide, heavy metals and many other agents that can lead to severe lung cancer.
Research has shown that in a single session, the volume of smoke produced is about 96 liters, equivalent to 48 big soda bottles, while a single cigarette produces half a liter or one quarter of a big soda bottle. A single session produces 1.7 times the amount of nicotine, 6.5 times the amount of carbon monoxide and 46 times the amount of tar in a cigarette.
Sanitation is another major issue with the argileh. Sharing it with a number of people can easily lead to the exchanging of germs and passing flu viruses, herpes or even STDs.
"I don't think anyone cares about the hazards," added Braich. "The argileh has become the Arab man's alcohol."
For some, it's not hard to ignore the potential dangers of the argileh when they are too busy picking out fancy flavors such mint, grape, orange or apple, among others. These flavors along with the charcoal can easily be purchased at local Middle Eastern grocery stores in the area for those looking to have private sessions in their homes.
"My favorite flavor is mint," said Nathalie Hussein, 19. "It just gives me a good buzz."
While the argileh might seem like a recent trend, Dr. Adnan Hammad, director of the Community Health & Research Department of ACCESS, says that argileh traces back to over 800 years ago and was even banned during a certain time period under the Ottoman Empire because of health issues.
Despite that history, the epidemic really hit hard in the 1990s, when the different flavors were introduced, making it more appealing to younger adults.
"Argileh used to be popular with the older male generation when it was just tobacco without flavor," added Manal Said. "But these days the businesses are targeting younger adults, particularly females, by making it more tasty and flashy."
Studies done by ACCESS have also found that children under the age of 18 in the Dearborn area have easy access to the argileh. As much as 40% of them have already tried it at some point. Part of the organization's Substance Abuse Prevention program has focused on educating businesses to not sell the argileh to anyone under the age of 18.
"Because of the flavors, many don't realize that this is still tobacco and it should be restricted to adults," added Manal Said. "We have been training many of the local businesses to I.D their customers."
But because the argileh can be shared amongst a large group of people, it's still very easy for any minor to gain access.