CONCORD -- The growing popularity of hookah smoking among young people is bringing a new lounge to Concord and alarming anti-tobacco advocates.

Tracy resident Sayed Hashimi and his business partners plan to open Hookah Palace next month at 1120 Contra Costa Blvd. The space, formerly Metro Skateshop, is in a small strip mall south of Sunvalley Mall that sits on a sliver of Concord surrounded on three sides by Pleasant Hill.

Although neighbors didn't object, the city of Pleasant Hill -- in an unusual move -- asked Concord to hold a public hearing on Hookah Palace's application for a minor use permit. In a Dec. 6 letter, Pleasant Hill Senior Planner Troy Fujimoto expressed concern about security, live entertainment, parking and smoke filtration.

The Planning Commission meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday at Concord City Hall, 1950 Parkside Dr.

If approved, Hookah Palace will be at least the third hookah lounge in Contra Costa County; Wicked Mirage has locations in Concord and Brentwood.

"To have these exciting bars where people can sit around and be friendly with each other and smoke hookah is not a good trend, but it is a growing trend and it's targeting young people," said Serena Chen, regional advocacy director for the American Lung Association in California. "Successful hookah bars are always near college campuses."


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Hashimi said Hookah Palace will replicate the typical bar scene -- with televisions tuned to professional sports and pay-per-view events and board games. The lounge will be open until 11 p.m. most days and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Customers must show identification proving they are at least 18.

The sizable Middle Eastern community and proximity to Diablo Valley College drew the partners to Concord, Hashimi said.

"We've seen a need for it. Many people have friends and family in Concord, but they go to San Francisco, Hayward and Fremont to go to the hookah lounges," Hashimi said.

A hookah is a water pipe that uses charcoal to heat flavored tobacco and passes the smoke through water before the user inhales it. Although hookah smoke contains nicotine, some users mistakenly believe the practice is safer and less addictive than cigarettes. While the scientific research is thin, studies indicate that hookah smoke contains toxins linked to cancer and heart disease. The fruity flavors mask the harshness of the tobacco taste, making hookah smoking seem harmless, and the social nature of hookah smoking increases exposure to secondhand smoke, according to Chen.

"I've had young people say to me, 'Doesn't the water clean the smoke?'" Chen said. "No, it lowers the heat of the smoke and when you lower the heat of the smoke, it means you can hold it in your lungs a lot longer."

California's smoke-free workplace law exempts stores that sell tobacco and smokers' lounges as long as those businesses don't serve food or beverages. But some Bay Area cities, including Dublin, Emeryville and Newark, have banned hookah lounges, Chen said.

Contra Costa County, Pleasant Hill, Pinole, Richmond and San Ramon ban smoking in all indoor workplaces and any indoor place that is open to the public, but Concord doesn't, said Denice Dennis, tobacco prevention project manager for the Contra Costa Health Services Department.

"These kind of businesses are really attractive to young adults, and that is an age group we're really concerned about in terms of trying to smoke," Dennis said. "Marketing definitely includes the sense that they're safer, and they're definitely not safer."

Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.