Friends sat together in a small, dimly lit dorm room in Calhoun College last weekend, chatting softly and passing a nargile hose from person to person. Each one took his turn inhaling the flavored smoke from the pipe as the familiar murmur of bubbling water and a subtle, fruity scent filled the air.
Eset Akcilad ’07 leaned back in his chair and released a series of carefully shaped smoke rings from his mouth.
For Akcilad and many other Yalies, the Middle Eastern tradition of smoking the Turkish water pipe (also known as hookah and hubble-bubble) has become a nightly ritual and social outlet. In residential colleges, in frats or at bars, nargiles are more and more frequently drawing friends together for relaxed conversation.
“It’s nice to invite people over and smoke with them,” said Akcilad, who bought his nargile in Turkey, where he lives. “It is a good way to meet people.”
Amanda Elbogen ’07, also a hookah owner, said she enjoys smoking the nargile because of it’s social nature and because it is relaxing and pleasant tasting.
“It’s exotic [and] a really good social activity,” Elbogen said. “It’s often associated with pot … a common misconception. For people who don’t smoke anything else, it’s ideal.”
The average nargile consists of a glass body connected to metal pipe device with a long hose. The top of the pipe has a bowl for holding a special type of frequently-flavored tobacco and a metal tray for catching stray ashes and embers. A liquid, usually water, is placed in the body and a special type of coal is placed over the tobacco.
“When you inhale, it draws air through the water which is connected to the part with the flavor,” said Akcilad. “The coal burns the flavor, and you get the smoke inside.”
The water inside the body cools and filters the smoke. Other liquids such as wine, milk and fruit juice can be used in place of water, each having a different effect on the smoke. The use of milk gives the smoke a smoother, milder taste, while wine has a much stronger affect on the head, Akcilad said.
While generally enjoyed in the privacy of one’s dorm room, hookahs are now seen frequently at fraternities and larger parties.
AEPi member Ian Bishop ’07 said his frat has a specially designated area for hookah smoking.
“Upstairs there’s like a social room … with three or four hookahs … if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle,” Bishop said.
Those students in the market for a nargile often search far and wide for moderately priced, aesthetically pleasing hookahs. Some students obtain their hookahs while living or traveling abroad, while others purchase them, as well as flavored tobacco and hookah accessories, from Web sites such as tulumba.com and onepercent.com. Hookah prices on these sites range from $65-$140.
Elbogen found her hookah, which has a green glass bowl decorated with a colorful floral pattern, during a trip to Jerusalem. She paid 150 shekels for it, which was about $40 at the time — a relative bargain compared to online prices.
“Last year I was in Israel in the back streets of Jerusalem [when] I came across an oasis of hookah vendors,” she said. “You have to find the hookah that fits your personality.”
While Akcilad said he usually purchases his tobacco in Turkey, a small grocery near College Wine sells a variety of flavors. He said his favorite flavor is banana mixed with apricot, while Elbogen said she and her friends prefer double apple.
Nargiles appeal to many non-smokers because most people believe smoking nargile tobacco is less harmful and addictive than smoking cigarettes, Akcilad said.
“I don’t smoke cigarettes, [but] I like the way smoke looks … it’s a really charming thing,” he said. “[A nargile] has more smoke and the same aesthetic value.”
According to Columbia University’s Health Services, few studies have been done on the difference in the health risks associated with cigarettes and nargile because the water pipe is a relatively new trend in the United States.
The flavored tobacco smoked by hookah users is approximately one-third tobacco and two-thirds fruit pulp, molasses, and sometimes honey, although the exact composition varies from brand to brand. The same toxins associated with the tobacco in cigarettes — including tar and carcinogens — are present in nargile tobacco.
According to the Columbia publication, “passing the smoke through water, as is done in a hookah pipe, may remove some compounds, but existing research documents that many toxins remain in water-filtered smoke.”
In addition, the effects of inhaling smoke from the burning fruit and molasses are currently unknown, the Web site said.
Although most recreational nargile users smoke less frequently than cigarette users, the threat of nicotine addiction nevertheless remains. The addictive compound in tobacco smoke is not fully filtered by the water, according to the site.
Despite health risks, Akcilad said he has noticed a significant increase in nargile usage on campus over the past year.
“Last year my room was a place where people would come and chill and smoke,” he said. “Now lots of my friends have bought their own.”
Although hookahs are often used in student rooms, smoking of any kind in Yale dorms is against Undergraduate Regulations.
A student who sets off a fire alarm using a hookah is subject to discipline, Branford Master Steven Smith said.
“The penalty for smoking a hookah is the standard fifty lashes with a wet noodle,” he said. “Setting off a smoke alarm, however, costs a trip to Ex-Comm.”
But dormitory regulations have not put a damper on the on-campus popularity of hookahs, which has coincided with the growing presence of nargile cafes, also known as hookah bars, in many American cities and abroad.
Ted Fertik ’07 said while most hookah bars in New York, especially in Manhattan, are “expensive and crappy,” he has found a smaller, more authentic place in his neighborhood.
Although nargile smoking has been popular in Turkey since the Ottoman Empire, it has made a comeback in Turkey in the past three to four years, especially among members of the younger generation, Akcilad said.
“Lately there has been kind of a self-orienting movement in Turkey [in which] the younger generation has been getting more in contact with traditions,” he said. “[Using nargiles] is one of these cultural waves that comes and goes.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”16557″ ]