Some Hookah Bars say they will defy the ban
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Headed out for dinner in the New Year? Look forward to doing so in a smoke-free environment as lighting up will no longer be allowed in North Carolina restaurants and bars beginning Jan. 2.
While celebrations are being scheduled across the state to call attention to the ban — supported by the vast majority of North Carolinians as well as by health officials and even the state’s Restaurant and Lodging Association — some hookah bars are already planning to defy the law.
James Tsakonas, co-owner of Hookah Joe’s in Asheville, told the Citizen-Times that his business will continue to offer the charcoal-heated, flavored tobacco smoked in waterpipes despite the fact that it will be illegal. Another hookah bar owner in Chapel Hill plans to do the same and, according to the Carolina Journal, is talking with operators of similar lounges in Fayetteville, Winston-Salem and Boone about hiring an attorney to challenge the law.
Their defiance will come with a price tag as the state statute passed in May includes fines of up to $200 a day for establishments that continue to allow smoking after they’ve been warned. Individuals who smoke face $50 fines.
“This law was passed to protect the public from secondhand smoke. Enforcement agencies are obligated to enforce the law in a consistent, even-handed manner and we have confidence that the local health directors will effectively and consistently enforce the law and handle difficult situations as they arise,” said Pam Seamans, policy director for the North Carolina Alliance for Health, which led the push for the House Bill 2. She said the Department of Public Health and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association have provided business owners with stickers and signs and additional information about implementing the new law.
“We urge health officials in counties where these hookah bars are located to be proactive in enforcing the ban,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We fought an attempt to exempt hookah bars from the law and we’ll continue to sound the alarm.”
More and more research is showing that far from being a safe alternative to cigarettes, as many young people believe, hookah is actually more dangerous. A recent study by researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and the American University of Beirut showed that hookahs delivered three times more carbon monoxide and about the same amount of nicotine as cigarettes. They exposed users to 40 percent more smoke by volume than cigarettes.
As early as 2005, the World Health Organization reported that a waterpipe smoker may inhale “as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.”
The report pointed out that hookah tobacco is “often sweetened and flavored, making it very appealing; the sweet smell and taste of the smoke may explain why some people, particularly young people who otherwise would not use tobacco, begin to use waterpipes.”
A 2007 report from the American Lung Association revealed that teen-agers who use hookah products are eight times more likely to experiment with cigarettes.
Hookah establishments in North Carolina can take advantage of an exemption in the bill that allows smoking at tobacco shops if they refrain from selling prepared food or alcohol. Smoking will also remain legal in outdoor areas such as restaurant patios, decks, porches or balconies. Other exemptions include cigar bars, country clubs and non-profit membership clubs.
While the smoking ban is much narrower than health officials initially proposed in their efforts to protect Tar Heel workers, it is an historic accomplishment in the nation’s top tobacco-producing state. News Channel 14 has designated the ban as one of the top 10 stories of 2009 and is expected to feature it on Monday, Dec. 28.
Events in bowling alleys, restaurants and at hockey games, among other locations, are planned to mark the start of Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars. In Stanly County, members of 4-H and Girl Scouts have partnered to begin distributing 17,000 smoke-free drink coasters to area restaurants. They are also conducting radio public service announcements to spread the word.
“This law will save thousands of lives,” said the Rev. Creech. “I was proud when our lawmakers, despite some intense pressure from the tobacco industry, made the right decision last spring. Now we’re more thrilled that the law is about to take effect.”
Seamans urged North Carolinians to join one of the many celebrations planned across the state or to plan their own with family and colleagues at a newly smoke-free restaurant.
“Let business owners know you appreciate the fact that they are now smoke-free and you look forward to visiting their establishment more often,” she said.
To find out more about the smoking ban celebrations in your area, go to www.ncallianceforhealth.org/Media/New PDFs/Updated HB2 CELEBRATIONS LIST.pdf.
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