By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Urgent Christian Action Alert: Contact members of the House Judiciary II Committee and oppose an exemption for Hookah lounges and bars.
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s new smoke-free law won’t clear the air in restaurants and bars until Jan. 2, 2010, but already some legislators are pushing to make an exemption for hookah lounges.
“This threat to the smoking ban will likely be taken up by the House Judiciary II committee as early as next week, so we need to contact lawmakers to stand firm and vote no to protect the ban,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Also known as narghile or hubble-bubble, a hookah is basically a water pipe that uses charcoal to heat flavored tobacco for communal smoking. A growing trend nationally and in North Carolina, hookah lounges and bars are popping up mainly in college towns. The practice is especially popular among 18 to 24-year-olds, despite the fact that hookah smoking is at least as dangerous as puffing on a cigarette.
In fact, according to a 2005 World Health Organization advisory, hookah users may be exposed to even more smoke than cigarette smokers because “smoking sessions last from 20 to 80 minutes during which a smoker may inhale as much smoke as that from 100 or more cigarettes.”
More than two months after the General Assembly passed a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars to protect customers and employees from secondhand smoke, Rep. Cullie Tarleton (D-Watauga) took a totally unrelated bill (S 884) regarding changes in how estates are settled and offered a proposed committee substitute that calls for hookah bars, like cigar bars, to be exempt from the ban.
Health advocates are passionately against the bill as is Rev. Creech.
“The Christian Action League believes the state should have considerable angst about revisiting historic public health legislation that has already passed on behalf of something that undermines the public’s health and offers no significant contribution to the state’s citizens or its economy,” Creech said.
According to a N.C. Prevention Partners analysis, “hookah smoking results in exposure to harmful levels of carbon-monoxide, heavy metals and carcinogens from the tobacco and typical heat sources…. These toxins can lead to cancer, heart disease, respiratory health problems and complications with pregnancies.” Because hookah smokers often share mouthpieces they are more susceptible to diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis.
In a speech before the Ways and Means Committee, which took up the bill on Wednesday, Creech pointed to the Prevention Partners survey of hookah establishments which shows that at least half of the establishments sell alcohol and approximately half the clientele are under age 21 and two of the 19 establishments surveyed have received ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) violations for serving alcohol to minors. He also noted that according to NC Prevention Partner’s data “anonymous reports from citizens and health based groups[i] have cited that hookah establishments in North Carolina have sold tobacco to minors under the age of 18.”
“It seems these establishments are certainly most conducive to underage smoking and drinking,” he said.
According to the survey, the greatest health threat from hookah may be the relationship between the practice and teen use of tobacco products.
“Teenagers who use hookah products are eight times more likely to experiment with cigarettes,” the report said.
Nonetheless the bill passed the Ways and Means Committee with a vote of 6-2 and is headed to Judiciary II. However it does include some limitations, thanks to amendments sent forth by Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) and Rep. Angela Bryant (D-Nash). Under the amended legislation, hookah bars serving alcohol would not be open to patrons under the age of 21.
Additionally, the bill would require that the establishment’s primary business be to rent to patrons a hookah pipe with a specified amount of tobacco to be smoked on the premises; that the bar have 40 percent of revenue from pipe rentals and tobacco sales, that the business not admit those under 18 and that the bar prohibit the smoking of cigarettes and cigars.
“We urge all of you who supported the smoking ban and fought so hard with us to get it passed to continue the push to keep it strong by contacting your lawmakers and urging them to vote against Senate Bill 884,” said the Rev. Creech.
[i] Harvey, Demetrius. “Hookah Bar.” E-mail to Lee Storrow. June 4, 2009.