Smoking Is it worth to run a shisha bar?
- Lena Kanning
In Germany there are about four times vo many Shisha bars as McDonald’s branches.
This article was published on 18. February 2019 published by Orange – the young portal of the Handelsblatt.
First of all, there is this smell: strictly sweet and somehow oriental. It hangs in all corners of the bar. At the counter, at the small side tables, between the red leather sofas. It’s Monday night and the place is reasonably well attended: While RnB pours out of the speakers and neon light colors the room red, mainly young people sit here together in small groups. Always in its center: a large, golden shiny water pipe.
6000 Shisha bars exist in Germany, estimates the Federal Statistical Office
The hookahs, also called shishas, are in vogue. Those who want to smoke them often go to special shisha bars to do so. They usually open in the late afternoon and fill up with more and more visitors within a few hours – just like the shisha bar Aladdin, in the middle of Passau’s city center. The guests are estimated to be between 18 and 26 – and noticeably often wear leather jackets and leggings.
One of them is 21-year-old Rey, a student in her third semester. About once or twice a week she meets with her clique in Aladdin’s bar. Then Rey and her friends put their heads together, laugh and talk, drink herbal tea and Diet Coke. Every now and then, someone bends over to the hookah, takes the end of the pipe between his lips, breathes in deeply, inhales, forms his mouth into a big O and then pushes the dense, white smoke vigorously out into the room.
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The ritual of shisha smoking originates from Persia and was common for centuries mainly in the Arab world. But it’s no longer just men wearing turbans on oriental carpets who smoke hookahs; more and more young people in Germany are doing so, too. The shishas with flavors such as lemon chili, apple watermelon or chocolate cinnamon are really shaking up the tobacco market in this country.
Because shisha bars are not recorded separately, there is no precise data on how many there are now in Germany. The press officer of the Federal Statistical Office estimates their number at about 6000. For comparison: McDonald’s has about 1500 branches nationwide.
Tobacco consumption in Germany: fewer cigarettes, more pipe tobacco
According to a research report by the German Federal Center for Health Education (BzgA), the number of adolescent cigarette smokers has been declining for years, while at the same time more and more young people are smoking shisha. Almost three out of ten young people between the ages of twelve and 17 have smoked hookah at least once. Among 18 – 25 year olds it is even almost 67 percent.
The sales figures for tobacco also confirm the trend. While the number of cigarettes sold in Germany has been decreasing for years, the opposite is true for pipe tobacco (see graphs further down in the article). From 2014 to 2018, the amount of pipe tobacco sold in Germany more than doubled.
The picture has also changed in the social networks. While it was still cool for our parents’ generation to pose casually in photos with a cigarette in the corner of the mouth, today more and more young people are showing up on Instagram with shisha.
Rey emphasizes above all the group feeling that sets in with the first puff of the hookah. "Everyone smokes the cigarette on their own, often quickly in between and outside the door," she says, passing on the end of the hose. "Shisha", on the other hand, is smoked over the course of an evening in the company of his friends."Their friends are Onur, Irem and Seyide. All are around 20, students and have Turkish-Arab roots.
Shisha: Origin in Persia, tradition in the Arab region
The common origin could be a coincidence. But it also fits the figures of the Federal Center for Health Education. According to the study, young people with Turkish, Asian or Arabic migration backgrounds smoke hookah more often.
"In a way, they brought the tradition of shisha smoking with them," says Diana Schulz of the BzgA. Now they wanted to live this part of their culture in this country as well – and maybe introduce it to their German buddies as well.
"That could be," confirms Irem at the bar table in Passau, and the others nod in agreement. "I like to smoke shisha mainly because it allows me to relax together with my friends. Either you go for coffee together, eat together – or smoke shisha, here in Aladdin’s bar.
Aladdin, namesake and operator of the Passau hookah bar, is pleased with such comments. After all, he depends on many people spending the evening with him. Twelve years ago, his uncle opened the bar. Aladdin himself came to Germany from Tunisia in 2015 and has been with us ever since. The 24-year-old is studying business administration at the University of Passau and works in parallel on up to five evenings together with three other employees in his store.
Aladdin says: "You have to calculate well to be able to run a shisha bar in the long term."A 200-gram tin of hookah tobacco costs him around 15 euros to buy, enough for ten pipes. One costs Aladdin, including the burning coal, only a little more than 1.50 euros – but he sells it for an average of six euros, four times as much. "I estimate that we sell an average of 20 pipes per evening to our guests, so that makes 120 euros that we earn from the shisha," Aladdin calculates.
Running a hookah bar: Is the hookah business worth it??
In addition to hookahs, Aladdin’s bar also offers small snacks such as salted pretzels and drinks. Since there were more accidents with drunken guests some time ago, only non-alcoholic drinks are on the menu. They cost an average of three euros and account for a large part of the income.
Aladdin estimates that it generates around 5000 euros a month. And that’s how he calculates his business:
- 3600 euros come from the sale of the shisha.
- 1400 euros (a good 30 percent) are spent on soft drinks, juice and black tea.
- A little more than 2,000 euros goes for rent, heating and electricity.
In addition, there are the costs for the shisha tobacco, fresh drinks and minor repairs. Sometimes a jukebox is broken, sometimes a sofa has to be reupholstered. "In the end, there’s not much left over," says Aladdin. If you want to open a new hookah bar, you first have to bear high costs. In addition to the expense of furniture and electronics, there are the pipes themselves – and the prescribed technology..
A hookah, for example, costs up to 150 euros and a good bar should have at least 20 pieces. Since 2018, many federal states also require the installation of a special ventilation system. The new cost at least 30.000 euros, says Aladdin. His conclusion: "It is difficult to make a profit with a shisha bar in the long run."
Despite the boom, business could currently be better for him. While Aladdin’s shisha bar used to be the only one of its kind in the student city of Passau, eight new ones have been added in recent years. This increases competition and ensures that fewer guests come to Aladdin’s. His competitors are also experiencing declining visitor numbers, because shisha fans no longer see the bars as the only place to smoke a hookah.
There is increased crime in hookah bars?
Aladdin observes that more and more shisha smokers are buying their own hookahs. Rey, the student in the bar, also says: "We used to come to Aladdin’s bar more often. In the meantime, however, we actually smoke more and more often at home or outside in summer. One is so simply more independent of opening hours and does not have to put up with long distances."
The spokeswoman for the federal government’s drug commissioner is already observing a trend: "Minors in particular are increasingly turning to consuming their hookah at home, because staying in hookah bars is not permitted until they are 18 years old."If an operator is caught allowing people under the age of 18 to enter, they could face fines of up to 4,000 euros.
Smoking Doctors warn against Shisha trend
Apropos punishments: Again and again Shisha bars get into the headlines. Mostly in connection with money laundering, large-scale police operations and criminal family clans. Also in television thrillers the bars are often staged as criminal places. "These portrayals damage our reputation and contribute to people preferring to smoke their hookah at home rather than at our place," says Aladdin. "However, these are cliches."
The Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation confirms this. In response to a question, a spokesman says that it is not possible to make any general statements about the prevalence of crime in hookah bars. While it is more common for operators to source their tobacco from countries such as the Czech Republic to avoid taxes, he said. Money laundering and clan crime, however, are the absolute exception.
"Every now and then we do checks in shisha bars," says the spokesman for the State Criminal Police Office. However, the main aim is to check whether the operator is complying with the law on the protection of minors and general commercial law. "From genuine raids as they are gladly represented in the television can therefore only rarely the speech be."
Shisha or cigarette: What makes faster addicted?
And how harmful is the smoke from the water pipe?? The spokeswoman for the federal government’s drug commissioner sees a "great need to catch up" in educating people about the dangers." Many young people downplayed the consumption.
Diana Schulz of the German Federal Center for Health Education sees it similarly: "A cigarette literally tastes like the poison it contains. Shisha, on the other hand, doesn’t taste poisonous at first, but rather like lemon or chocolate. That’s also what makes them so dangerous."
Shisha tobacco, like cigarette tobacco, contains nicotine, which can quickly become addictive, warns the BzgA. In addition, more than 4800 other substances harmful to health are contained in shisha smoke, she says.
"Whether cigarettes or shisha are more dangerous is difficult to determine," says Diana Schulz of the Federal Center for Health Education. But it is safe to assume that smoking a hookah is about as harmful as smoking ten cigarettes. Health experts are particularly critical of the fact that hookahs cool tobacco smoke. This ensures that smokers like to inhale more than cigarettes and the smoke can penetrate deeper into the lung tissue.
Carbon monoxide in hookah bars: Hamburg demands smoke detectors
In addition still the danger of the carbon monoxide poisoning comes. Carbon monoxide is produced by burning the charcoal on the shisha head. In closed rooms, it can lead to poisoning – this is considered to be the greatest risk when smoking shisha. Hamburg wants to force bar operators to install special smoke detectors because of this.
Bar operator Aladdin knows all these risks. He says: "Sure, shisha smoking is not necessarily healthy. But then neither are cigarettes and alcohol."