Christian Action League
During the 2009 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, historic legislation was passed into law that banned smoking in most bars and restaurants across the state. The only exemptions to the law would include cigar bars that meet certain criteria and certain types of non-profit clubs. But Hookah bars are openly flouting the new non-smoking policy.
According to the Asheville Citizen Times, owners of a Hookah bar in downtown Asheville made their feelings clear just days before the ban took effect. “Only a few short days till we extend our middle finger to the N.C. Smoking Ban. The Hookah Bar will be open in 2010,” read one establishment’s Twitter account. On the same day the no-smoking ban kicked in, another tweet defiantly said, “F the smoking ban…We are still smoking…I am right now!”
Hookah bar owners claim they are not actually breaking the law by ignoring it. They say because of a loophole in the law they don’t have to abide by it. They argue smoking a Hookah pipe technically doesn’t fall within the law’s definition of “smoking,”… which says smoking is “the use or possession of a lighted cigarette, lighted cigar, lighted pipe, or any other lighted tobacco product.” The owner’s contend that, technically, when smoking a hookah pipe the tobacco is never lit, but heated by charcoal. A small metal screen of foil provides a barrier between the coals and tobacco.
“Your typical modern hookah tobacco is mixed with molasses or honey – depending on the brand – glycerin, flavoring and sometimes a little dye. So it’s very wet. If you tried to take a lighter to it, it just wouldn’t work because its to wet, Adam Bliss, the owner of Hookah Bliss in Chapel Hill told the Winston-Salem Journal.
But North Carolina lawmakers and an attorney from the North Carolina Division of Health say the new law does apply to Hookah establishments. Smoking a hookah would fall under the “lighted pipe” provision.
“There really isn’t any question as to whether the law applies to hookah establishments and they should know it,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We visited this issue when the legislation was being considered and they had their chance for an exemption.”
Pam Seamans, Policy Director for the North Carolina Alliance for Health, notes: “One issue that isn’t getting much attention in the broader media is the fact that the hookah bars had a chance to be exempted this past 2009 session, but rejected that opportunity. After an amendment was passed in committee restricting hookah bars to permitting only those 21 and over, just like the cigar bar exemption, the hookah bar operators decided against further pursuing the exemption, showing themselves for what they really are – targeting our youth around college campuses. If some of the hookah bars stopped serving prepared foods and alcohol as several hookah bars have already done in the state, they could continue their business as tobacco shops which are exempted in the smoke-free law. It is about leveling the playing field for all restaurants and bars. But those that defy the law are not playing fair when it comes to the other restaurants and bars that are following the ban.”
“I certainly hope that law enforcement will do its job upholding the law in this case,” said Rev. Creech. “According to a 2009 NC Prevention Partners survey of hookah establishments, the customer profile of the 14 out of 19 establishments surveyed, 50% of them sell alcohol. At least 3% of the clientele of hookah bars is under the age of 18 and 47% are aged 18-21, which means a significant portion of the persons who visit a hookah bar are underage for smoking or drinking. The survey also showed that 2 of the 19 establishments, Hookah Bliss of Chapel Hill and Hookah Joe’s of Asheville, received Alcohol Law Enforcement violations for selling alcohol to minors. These establishments are a magnet for youth, ready to lead them to an unhealthy lifestyle. Hookah bars essentially offer no significant contribution to the state’s citizens or its economy.”
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against hookah smoking, saying it causes some of the same health problems as smoking cigarettes. The WHO advisory reported hookah users are exposed to even greater amounts of tobacco smoke over longer periods of time than cigarette smokers. A 2008 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed, “An hour spent smoking a hookah, or water pipe, delivers as much carbon monoxide to the user as smoking a pack of cigarettes.”
The WHO report also stated, “Using a water pipe to smoke tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking…Contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke that emerges from a water pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases.”
Enforcement of the smoking ban relies on the reporting of violations to the local health departments. Violations can be reported anonymously online at www.smokefree.nc.gov or by calling the N.C. CARE-LINE toll free at 800-662-7030.