Russia's Tobacco Ban Takes the Buzz Out of Hookah Bars
In recent years, the late-night revelry wasn’t complete for many customers at Alexei Vasilchuk’s chain of trendy teahouses in Moscow until they’d gotten their nicotine fix with a few drags on a hookah, a long-stemmed water pipe. The practice is huge across Russia, with eating establishments taking in $600 million annually from offering hookah service, according to researcher RestConsult. But following Russia’s June 1 ban on tobacco smoking in public places, Vasilchuk’s Chaikona No 1 outlets no longer offer tobacco-based versions of the devices, also known as shisha, narghile, calean, or hubbly bubbly. Visitors can instead puff on steamy concoctions made with nicotine-free fruit mixes—without the customary buzz.
Because of the change, Russian bar owners’ revenue from offering hookahs may drop by a third, according to RestConsult, which estimates that the water pipes are offered at 40 percent of Moscow eateries. “Those who were nicotine-addicted are fleeing to other places that don’t comply with the law and keep tobacco hookahs illegally,” says Vasilchuk, who estimates that about 10 percent of Moscow restaurants aren’t obeying the new regulation.
Hookahs are single- or multi-stemmed water pipes that originated in Asia more than five centuries ago. A long, flexible tube allows users to inhale smoke or steam produced by heating tobacco, sugar beets, or porous stones infused with aromatic fluid (basically fruit syrup and glycerin). The smoke travels through a basin filled with cool water or other liquid, making it easier to inhale.
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