The Hookah Lounge War Is On [Video]
There are hundreds of hookah lounges in the U-S, mostly in college towns and urban areas. The lounges have enjoyed an exemption to clean indoor air laws because they have defined themselves as “tobacco shops.”No more.Lawyers.com videojournalist Lisa Reilly reports the hookah lounge war is on.
The front line is here in Boston. After allowing a few lounges to open, the city has clamped down and passed a law that forces all of the city’s hookah lounges to shut down by 2019.
“I think the response that we get from the local government and public health commissions of the world is reactionary,” says Ben Bencharit, co-owner of the Nile Lounge.
Boston now is just one of dozens of states, cities and towns across the country pouring cold water on hookah.
Lounge opponents say that hookah with its flavored tobacco smoke bubbling through cooling water is the gateway to cigarette smoking.
“There’s a risk that people who are non-smokers will be drawn to these places, enjoy the social aspect of using hookahs in these lounges. Then find themselves addicted to nicotine and needing to buy packs of Marlboros,” says Mark Gottlieb, executive director at the Public Health Advocacy Institute.
Hookah use is growing. At least one of five U.S. college students have tried hookah in the last year.
“I haven’t seen any studies. I’ve personally looked it up and I didn’t see anything that shows that people who smoke hookah turn into a cigarette smoker themselves,” says Alex Lewis, co-owner of the Nile Lounge.
“Less than 10 percent of smokers start after the age of 20. So it’s a very important time to not be experimenting with cigarettes or any other kind of tobacco addiction when someone is 18, or 19, or 20 years. And that is a key demographic for hookah lounges,” says Gottlieb.
“With lack of nightlight for kids under 21, I think they appreciate that there is an alternative to going out and drinking. So that’s something that we do provide for this community,” says Bencharit.
“You have the other people, people who work there and the neighbors of the hookah lounges that are also placed at risk,” says Gottlieb.
“There are all these processes that regulate this stuff. We should have faith in the system rather than try to go through with something drastic. I just don’t think that shutting down businesses is the smart thing to do,” says Bencharit.
Boston’s hookah lounge owners already are talking about lobbying to fight the upcoming ban.