Hookahs: Does "Modern" Mean "Better"? / Part II

When the hookah trend took off in the U.S., entrepreneurs began looking for ways to meet the market demand. Importing traditional hookahs from the Middle East takes a lot of time, patience, connections, and money; therefore, up and coming businesspeople sought alternative suppliers. One enterprising individual, the founder of Sultan Tobacco, decided that the basic hookah could be mass produced in an assembly line manufacturing environment with greater ease than importing the traditional pipes would be. Mike, also keenly aware of the American "on-the-go" mentality, sought to make a hookah that could be transported with ease. And so the Junior, a single hose hookah in a carrying case, the first "modern" hookah, was born.

Although sending the hookah to China for manufacture met the market demand for pipes, and reduced the price for consumers, the modern technology employed in the manufacturing process didn't improve the hookah at all. Instead of improving the hookah experience for enthusiasts, the "modern" hookahs did nothing more than flood the market with thousands of look-alike pipes in boxes.

Thanks to the cheap cost of purchasing a "modern" hookah, they sold like the proverbial hotcakes. We watched this phenomenon with a great deal of interest because unlike others in the business, we refused to jump on the Chinese bandwagon. And we are eternally thankful that we stuck to our guns, for it wasn't long after these modern "marvels" hit the market that we began to see the fallout.

Because modern technology has made these hookahs look perfect, buyers assume that they are every bit as good as they look; however, they quickly learn about just how deceiving appearances can be when it comes to a product's performance and longevity. In order to make international sales more appealing, Chinese factories do everything they can to reduce production costs. We've seen this recently with the
massive recall of toys and other products made in China due to the presence of lead. In terms of hookah production, costs are cut in myriad ways:

  • inferior and/or cheaper metals are used in the manufacture of the shaft
  • the glass is spray painted instead of using colored glass
  • glass designs are spray painted by pre-set machines
  • because hookahs are assembled in a package, replacement parts are almost non-existent

When cheap metals are used, the shafts are spray painted. And this is where we first began to see the problems with the Chinese pipes. Customers came to us looking for a solution to the problem of the paint peeling off the shaft and the resulting rust spots that occur after exposure to the water in the base. Oftentimes, they came to us as a last result because they could find no replacement parts anywhere. Other customers came to us looking for replacement bases after theirs broke or the paint peeled off. But the manufactured hookah does have some good points, too:

  • cheap purchase price
  • uniformity in appearance
  • ease of use
  • convenient to store and travel with

While the initial investment in a visually appealing and conveniently portable Chinese manufactured hookah is low, the costs involved in maintaining it only increase that investment exponentially. Most of the time, people who have purchased the "modern" hookahs end up replacing them with the traditional ones because they can find parts and accessories for them that are unavailable for their technologically "advanced" pipe.

Considering the dangers associated with the possibility of lead contamination (remember that in addition to smoking tobacco, you are smoking the materials used in the pipe itself!), flaking paint and rust spots on shafts, peeling paint on glasses, and the lack of replacement parts are taken into consideration, it's not too hard to see that "modern" may mean cheaper, but it does not necessarily mean "better."

Comment (1)

Manish Kumar

1:54 PM

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East Bay Hookah