At first, I honestly thought this was a joke.  No one in their right mind would organize a cancer awareness event at a hookah bar, right?  Wrong!  Because coming up next week is Pittsburgh's first ever Mammogram-Jam held right in the heart of Pittsburgh Southside at HKan Hookah Bar & Lounge. 

First, let me explain about a hookah bar.  Its an ancient Middle Eastern practice involving smoking tobacco through a water pipe or hookah.  This practice has become quite the rage across the United States with hookah bars popping up all over the place.  The use of tobacco becomes the cultural activity at hookah bars. 

Doesn't really strike you as the most appropriate place to promote cancer detection, does it?  Let's take a look at the facts.

* According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use accounts for nearly one-third of all cancer deaths. 

* Lung cancer is the number one killer of women followed by breast cancer.

* The US Surgeon General recently released a report suggesting that secondhand smoke may increase the risk of breast cancer. 

* There has been no proven link between smoking and breast cancer. 

Here is what the Susan G. Komen folks have to say about the smoking/breast cancer issue (courtesy of their website).

?Understanding the role of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure in the risk for breast cancer could provide us with another piece of the puzzle in our fight against breast cancer. If the evidence that supports a link between secondhand smoke and an increased risk for breast cancer is proven, this will give people another factor with some level of control, another way to help reduce their risk for developing breast cancer. Until that happens, there is no doubt that smoking is bad for your health and [that] is a good reason to stop or never to start smoking. A close review of the data and additional study is now warranted because of the future implications for breast cancer risk if this information continues to be supported by additional research,? said Cheryl Perkins, M.D., senior clinical advisor for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Now, let me very clear that I certainly am in favor of promoting awareness of early detection for breast cancer and for raising money to support the good work of the Susan G. Komen folks.  I just think there have to be some boundaries.  So intrepid blogger that I am, I contacted the event organizer Girl Weapon X for more details on why they planned this event at a  hookah bar.

First, I figured that they were using the space but making it a smoke free event for the evening.  It seemed the logical solution.  I was wrong. Girl Weapon X's response:

While there are certain ideals within any event, simple logistics must not be forgotten.  The HKan has generously donated the use of their venue free of charge for the entire eventing.  Additionally, the floor plan for the Mammogram Jam requires that all the tables be removed which will eliminate the restaurant aspect of the HKan.  In response, the management offered to cater a buffet of appetizers for our guests - again free of charge.  All that is on top of donating protions of the drink specials to the evening's totals as well.  It's clear that the Mammogram Jam's locale is one that cares about the community which has helped it thrive.

That doesn't explain why it cannot be a smoke-free event.  If they aren't planning to make any money from beverage or food sales, why would they object to losing money on tobacco sales?  How is that caring about the community?  Its really not clear at all. 

Then I asked her more pointedly about the connection between smoking and cancer.  She responds:

Am I claiming this event as perfection?  No.  But I am confident that I have done what I am capable of, and that is success in my eyes.  Yes, lung cancer is a serious problem.  My reasearch on breast cancer has revealed that it is the second greatest killer amongst cancers in women - second only to lung cancer.  However, this event is NOT for lung cancer.  It is to aid in early detection of breast cancer, as studies have shown that annual mammography can bring the five year survival rate to ninety-five percent.
If my coice[sic] is between having the event at a smoking facility or not having the event, I'll choose the smoking facility every time!  And I cannot make any apologies for my decisions.  As I stated in my first reply, the HKan has been more than generous in their support of this event, and I'm proud to host the Mammogram Jam there.  It isn't as easy as you'd think to find local businesses that care so deeply about its community! 

She probably doesn't stop to think that I, too, might have organized an event or two, but never mind that ...

I also asked her if she would have accepted sponsorship monies from a tobacco company.  She replies:

Well, your question is very interesting...  For this event, I would not have accepted a donation from a tobacco company.  However, not for the reason you're aiming for.  This event centers around local culture -- including local musicians, local artists and local industry.  Since there is no local tobacco company, a contribution from such an entity would take away from the theme of this event.  If, however, a local tobacconist had taken an interest in donating a gift certificate to this event, I would have gladly accepted the contribution and offered free advertising on our web site.

She'd accept money from a tobacco company if it was local?  Did I read that correctly?  Huh ....

And the gay theme ... I pointed out that as a lesbian blog we are especially interested in the topic since smoking rates in our community are nearly four times as high as in the general population, especially among our young women.  I think she misunderstood and thought I wanted to bring a group of lesbian teens to the event:

And while I can see the concerns relative to your cause, I'd ask you to remember that perhaps your cause and mine differ.  This event is not for teens as it is only open to those twenty-one and older.  Also, while we are not by any means excluding the lesbian community, we are not particularly reaching out to them any more than we are to all aspects of the community.  However, I can very much see how this issue is important amongst the lesbian community.  My research has also indicated that certain facets of the lesbian lifestyle place such women at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, and so I hope that this event will arouse your support.

LESBIAN LIFESTYLE?  Oh, honey, you had to play the subtle homophobe card.  I took a look at your MySpace page (really I had no choice) and would note that certain aspects of your lifestyle (quasi-Christian bar wench) aren't exactly the healthiest.  Plus, you freakin' event is KILLING my sisters.  What the hell kind of Christianity is that?

To give her credit, she does seem REALLY enthusiastic about how fun the event will be and quite taken with her own ability organize a fundraiser.  So taken that I think the issue has become subordinate to the event, a frequent pitfall of special event planning. 

While I can understand your concerns, I must maintain my position as follows:  It is very easy to sit in judgement of others, but very difficult to take the initiative required to plan an event like this.  This "planning committtee" you refer to doesn't exist...  It's simply me, with the help of close friends who share my desire to improve the community we call home.  I am fairly well-known and have many connections within Pittsburgh, and I've pooled my resources to create an event that will not only raise money for an incredible cause, but provide a lot of fun for our guests.

You know, this is perhaps the most ridiculous thing that's come across my email box in a long, long time.  Holding a cancer awareness event/fundraiser in a hookah bar makes as much sense as moving Gay Bingo to the Penn Hills house formerly occupied by Santorum.  Or inviting Mary Cheney to serve as Grand Marshall of the Pride Parade.  It is a marriage conceived in some distorted version of hell. 

Before the Girl Weapon X posse pull out their taunts and barbs, you should know that I was very clear with Zoe that I was covering this issue in my blog.  No nasty little taunts about my motives.  I have two sets of motives - my boobs and my lungs.  Neither wish to be sacrificed so I can have a good time inhaling your carcinogens.