Unable to drink, young people going hookah

Katie Lynch sucked in smoke from a long, narrow mouthpiece with pursed lips as if sipping from a straw.

Her mother, Kathy Lynch, sat to her right with brow furrowed and arms crossed, watching as Katie cocked her head back, narrowed her eyes and gently puffed a cloud into the air.

Katie, 18, had convinced her mom to come to Jerusalem Cafe in Westport on a Thursday evening, not to eat Mediterranean food, but to head upstairs to the hookah bar. In the dim red light, people — many of them around Katie’s age — lean back in chairs and booths while they smoke tobacco from hookahs, traditional Middle Eastern water pipes.

Young people in big cities and college towns, including Lawrence and Warrensburg, Mo., are flocking in increasing numbers to hookah bars and lounges. Medical researchers said hookah use in the United States rose dramatically this decade, even as cigarette smoking rates steadily fell, city after city banned indoor smoking, and regulations on the tobacco industry continued to tighten.

Although hookah bar owners said the smoke people inhaled was less dangerous and less addictive than cigarettes, doctors point to research that indicates that may not be the case. One researcher called the spreading hookah use an "epidemic."

Jerusalem Cafe added a hookah bar this summer at its 39th Street location. Sinbad’s Cafe and Hookah Lounge opened recently on Broadway Street near Westport, giving the city its first hookah business not connected to a restaurant. Along with Jerusalem Cafe on Westport Road, where the hookah bar dates to 2002, and Aladdin Cafe on 39th Street, Kansas City has at least four hookah businesses.

Hookah bars can operate legally under the smoking ordinance passed last year because of an exception for retail tobacco shops, but they cannot sell food or liquor, and at least 80 percent of their revenue must come from tobacco sales.

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