TRENDS AND TRENDSETTERS IN SPECIALTY TOBACCO RETAILING
Hookah Cafés on the Rise
The centuries-old Middle Eastern tradition of smoking exotic, water pipes hookahs in cafes is continuing to gain interest in the U.S. The hookah’s growing popularity is difficult to measure, but the industry estimates that at least 200 to 300 new hookah houses have opened over the past three to five years — many concentrated in California — but also on the east coast and often near college campuses.
Hookahs, often three feet high, use charcoal to heat tobacco, which is soaked in molasses or honey and mixed with fruit pulp. Up to three fabric hoses with disposable plastic mouthpieces allow several people to share. The smoke is filtered through water, giving it a smooth, sweet taste, say enthusiasts. While the practice in the U.S. has generally
been geared towards cultural tradition, it has found a wider audience in recent years. From Evanston, Indiana’s Café Hookah to State College,
Pennsylvania’s The Tall Shiva Hookah Lounge, the ancient tradition is experiencing a jolt of mainstream popularity.
In San Jose, Calif., a former coffeehouse and art gallery reopened in January as Hooka Nites Cafe. Owner Paul Zamot offers a smoking menu that includes traditional fruit-flavored tobacco blends (shisha) that incorporate fruit leaves, honey, and molasses for $10. But Zamot has also created more exotic offerings, such as “fresh fruit hookahs” where tobacco is placed inside hollowed-out fruit, such as pineapple or coconut, for $25 per smoke. The tobacco stays moist, notes Zamat, who says hookahs typically last anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, and are generally shared among several friends.
Nearly half of the hookah bars in New York City are clustered in a small area of Astoria, Queens known as Little Egypt, owned mostly by Egyptian immigrants and frequented by men of Middle Eastern descent who sip juice, coffee, or strong tea while bantering or engaging in chess or backgammon. The cafés, however, are tangled in the city’s year-old smoking ban, which has been sporadically enforced for hookah bars. A
city councilman there has attempted to gain the cafes the same exemption that has been extended to New York cigar bars, which is only valid in establishments selling alcohol. Unlike new-wave hookah bars catering to
nightlife crowds, traditional hookah bars with Muslim clients do not serve alcohol.
Smoking Ban Fight Heats up in Nation’s Capital
The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, which represents about 500 Washington,
D.C.-area restaurants, has sued the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics in an attempt to keep an
initiative off the November ballot that would ban smoking in bars and restaurants in the city.
The suit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, is the latest move in a battle that began in September
when anti-smoking advocates launched a campaign in Washington to ban the smoking of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes in all D.C. workplaces.
A push for a statewide ban in Maryland also is under way, but the Senate Finance Committee
recently killed the measure, making its passage unlikely soon. Delaware, New York, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and California prohibit smoking inside certain places.
BITS & PIECES
Four former surgeons general
called for a $2-a-pack
cigarette federal excise tax
in February as part of a plan
to reduce cigarette use, raising
an estimated $28 billion
in additional revenues each
year to fund a variety of cessation-
related programs. The
current tax is 39¢ per pack.
John Rowland’s 2004-05
$14.2 billion state budget
included a cigarette tax hike
from $1.51 to $2.05 per
pack which became effective
April 1. The plan also
increased taxes charged on
cigars, chewing tobacco,
RYO, and pipe tobacco.
Effective March 27, Pennsylvania
retailers can only
possess and sell MSA-compliant
cigarette and RYO/
MYO tobacco brands. The
state’s attorney general
posts the Tobacco Product
Manufacturer Directory Act at
eCommerce Today Ltd.,
which does business under
the websites discountcigarettes.
net and ecommercetoday.
com, agreed in February
to stop shipping cigarettes
to California, settling
a lawsuit that accused it of
selling to minors and failing
to report tobacco sales to
state tax authorities.
In February, New Jersey
Governor Jim McGreevey proposed
boosting the state’s
cigarette tax for the third time
in three years. New Jersey’s
current tax, $2.05 per pack,
is the highest in the nation.
SMOKESHOP - April, 2004