Opened just a few weeks, the window display of AI Bazar (580 Bloomfield Avenue) is eye-catching, whether you’re a smoker or not. Owner Hasan Karriti, who came to the United States 30 years ago from Palestine, considers the establishment a grocery/convenience store, but clearly the hookah collection is the primary attraction.
Ranging in price from $15 – $200, depending on the size, shape and design of the piece, Karriti says that while some customers buy the hookahs for decorations, it’s mostly about the smoking. Al Bazar offers a selection of tobaccos, which Karriti says is often mixed with fruit, molasses and herbs to add flavor.
“The Middle East is in the news every day,” he said, as a way of explaining the attraction to the ancient social smoking tradition amongst American college students and young working professionals. “Young people like to try new things.”
The single or multi-stemmed pipes have become the focus of parties or small get-togethers at colleges and in hookah bars across the country over the past 4 or 5 years. Even in the wake of no-smoking laws, Hookah bars have sprung up to offer a social smoking experience, as has been done for millenia in the Middle East and Asia. The now defunct Diva Lounge was an early hookah establishment in Baristaville, and according to their website, the Montclair restaurant Mediterranea currently boasts a lounge for those over 19 years old to smoke the “hubbly bubbly.” In February, NJ.com reported about the growing number of hookah bars in Central Jersey, particularly around New Brunswick.
While proponents say that hookah tobacco is safer than commercial cigarettes, due to lower tar and nicotine levels and the water filtration, there’s no shortage of scientific study saying otherwise. The consensus among medical professionals continues to be that no method of smoking tobacco is safe, and that in the end, smoking Hookah is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.
“I used to smoke when I was young, but now I don’t,” said Karriti.