Hooked on Hookah

Nov 162005
Authors: Julie Abiecunas

Students may soon find themselves lighting up in a whole new way. Young entrepreneurs and cousins Patrick and Eric Crennen are pursuing plans to open a hookah lounge in Fort Collins at 148 W. Oak St.

A hookah, also known as a water pipe, is a traditional Middle Eastern smoking device, which is filled with a mixture of flavored tobacco, honey and molasses for smoking.

Eric, a junior accounting major, describes the experience of smoking out of a hookah as totally different from smoking cigarettes.

"You don't even feel any of the smoke coming into your lungs," Eric said. "You taste the strawberry or vanilla or whatever the flavor is coming out."

Patrick, a CSU alumnus, said smoking a hookah is a very cultural and inclusive experience to partake in.

"Hookah can be smoked by anybody, even if they don't smoke cigarettes," Patrick said. "It's a very flavorful experience."

Eric said the cousins plan to name their hookah lounge "The Blue Caterpillar" after the caterpillar in "Alice in Wonderland" who smokes out of a hookah. Eric said a hookah bar could have social potential for Fort Collins.

"It'll be a really good place for the 18 and up crowd, and will provide them with an interesting experience and something to do at night," Eric said.

In addition to providing a good hangout place for college students, Patrick also said he feels a hookah bar can bring some redeeming values to the city.

"It'd bring in a lot of tax revenue for the city; tobacco is something that is pretty heavily taxed," Patrick said, "Also it would help with public safety. It's just on the other side of Old Town that's not subject to the 2 a.m. curfew. You know, it'd be a good place for people to come to and sober up at after they've been drinking at the bars…maybe it'd be able to reduce the number of D.U.I.'s or traffic accidents."

Despite what Patrick views as the good qualities the establishment could offer, the two cousins recently ran into trouble with city ordinances that could delay the tentative date of next semester to open The Blue Caterpillar.

"The City Attorney's Office has been very hostile to opening up a hookah lounge in Fort Collins," Patrick said. "I think basically it comes from them not knowing or wanting to understand what the hookah is or what it's about."

Patrick said the City Attorney's Office recently proposed a revision to the no smoking ordinance in Fort Collins, which would require only 20 percent of an establishment's floor space can be devoted to people smoking.

The 20 percent rule will create challenges to work around, Eric said, but they are open to trying to work around the revision if passed.

Another restriction is the Fort Collins law, requiring a tobacco-smoking establishment, such as The Blue Caterpillar, to generate at least 75 percent of its revenue from the sale of tobacco products. This means it would be very difficult to provide much in the way of appetizers or non-alcoholic drinks to their guests. Patrick, who doesn't smoke cigarettes, is opposed to the idea of having so much of their revenue generated from cigarette sales. He said he doesn't believe hookah to be as harmful as cigarettes.

"The kind of tobacco used in smoking hookah is more akin to that that's in a cigar. Shisha, which is used in the hookah, has really low amounts of tar and nicotine in it compared to cigarettes," Patrick said. "You don't hold it in your lungs the same way you do tobacco. You pretty much just taste the flavor coming in and lingering in your mouth."

President of the American Academy of Periodontology, Dr. Kenneth Krebs, told Headline News Reporter Christina Ficara that hookah smoking is still harmful.

"Even though the smoke is filtered out by water, inhalation of toxic substances is similar to or even greater than that of cigarette smoking," Krebs said. "Not only does water-pipe smoking include the same substance as cigarette smoke such as carbon monoxide and tar, tobacco used for water-pipe smoking contains two to four percent nicotine verses one to three percent for cigarette."

Director of Drug and Alcohol Education at Hartshorn Health Service, (HHS) Pam McCracken, said although hookah is not a common drug of choice for students receiving drug counseling at HHS, she feels opening a hookah lounge could increase the number of CSU students addicted to tobacco.

Patrick, despite numerous attempts to reach the mayor and gain an ally on the city council, said he and his cousin have yet to find anyone within city government willing to fight for their cause.

"At this point I'd say it's really 50/50 as to whether we'll be able to open up our hookah lounge or not," Patrick said.

If Patrick and Eric can't open The Blue Caterpillar in Fort Collins, they're considering setting up shop in Greeley, where restrictions regarding tobacco establishments are much looser. Patrick is adamant that providing an enjoyable hookah experience to college students is high on his list of priorities and that the possibility of building even more hookah shops elsewhere in the future is also on his mind.

"First we'd like to open up a really good hookah shop in Fort Collins. We might expand though if the right opportunity came up," Patrick said. "We definitely don't want to be the Wal-Mart of hookah shops though."


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