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This is what hookah is and why it's on the county's radar
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Sadi Brunetta, general manager of 787 Hacienda, demonstrates using a hookah on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Hall County commissioners are taking a 90-day moratorium on issuing a hookah lounge business license to further investigate the effects of the smoking device. - photo by Austin Steele

Hall County commissioners have initiated a 90-day moratorium on issuing hookah lounge business licenses to further investigate the effects of the smoking device.

Srikanth Yamala, Hall County planning and development director, said the county was approached by someone interested in opening a hookah lounge, but the county’s business license code contains no language regarding such lounges.  

A hookah, also called a shisha, is a water pipe that contains a smoke chamber, a bowl and one or more hoses. People use the device to smoke sweetened or flavored tobacco.

Despite the absence of hookah lounges, tobacco and vape stores around Hall County have sold hookah products for years.

Rob Moore, manager of Vape 53 off of Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville, said the difference between smoking tobacco from a cigarette versus a hookah is significant.

“You use a wet tobacco that’s soaked in flavor,” Moore said. “You put the hot coal on the top and it steams it, and you inhale the vapor. There’s no tobacco being combusted when you’re using it.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that hookah smoking has many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking, including the intake of nicotine and the toxicity of the smoke.

Moore also sells electric hookahs at his shop. Instead of using coal and wet tobacco, the devices require charging and vape juice.

“It goes on top of the hookah, and you put the vape juice inside,” he said.

The electric hookah activates when people inhale the smoke from its hose.

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Hookah is available at 787 Hacienda on Thursday, May 23, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Ankit Patel, a staff member at Tobacco Palace & Vape Shop in Gainesville, said the business he works at has provided hookah products since opening three years ago in the Lakeshore Shopping Center. The store offers various flavors of hookah tobacco, including strawberry, mint and apple.

Patel said one of the biggest differences between smoking cigars or cigarettes compared to a  hookah, involves the nicotine content. He said an average hookah bowl contains significantly more nicotine than a cigarette.

Patel and Moore describe hookah as a traditional device used in many countries. Moore said they have been around for hundreds of years, tracing back to India, Turkey and other countries in the Middle East and South Asia.

“It’s a social thing,” Moore said. “It’s no different than anybody going to a bar and sitting down with friends and sharing a pitcher of beer.”

Angel Retana, owner of 787 Hacienda off of Atlanta Highway in Gainesville, offers an alternative to the typical type of hookah.

The lounge area of his business provides non-nicotine hookahs powered by electricity. Retana said he discovered this type of hookah while attending a conference in Las Vegas.

The product used at 787 Hacienda comes from the French company, O2 Hookah.

Like most hookah lounges, Retana gives his customers plastic caps to place over the hose tips. This prevents people’s mouths from touching the hoses and swapping germs.

“We’re all about cleanliness,” Retana said.

The closer people travel to Atlanta, the more hookah lounges they’ll find, Moore said.

“A hookah lounge here would be nice,” he said. “As long as they did it right and made it 18 years and up. It’s successful in the city, I don’t know why it wouldn’t go over well out this way.”

Hookah lounges in Hall County will not be able to get business licenses for the next 90 days, after commissioners unanimously approved the temporary moratorium on the businesses.

The 90-day period will be used to research the effects of using hookahs, and there will be two public hearings to gather community input.

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