TODAY'S QUESTION: Should hookah lounges be exempt from Columbia's smoking ordinance?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

On Friday, a new element to the smoking issue was introduced in Columbia. Located at 32 N. Ninth St., 9th Street Hookah Lounge opened its doors to the public.  

The city has a 3-year-old smoking ban, but the hookah lounge is exempt from it because it sells tobacco and tobacco accessories as its main retail products. The Missourian previously reported, “To maintain its status as a tobacco retailer and not a restaurant, the lounge cannot sell food or beverages. Patrons can provide their own nonalcoholic beverages, but they must be at least 18 years old, the legal smoking age in Missouri.”

A proposed statewide smoking ban likely wouldn't impact the business, since the proposal currently allows an exception for tobacco retailers.

Hookah originated in the Middle East and is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. The smoke from the flavored tobacco is filtered through a bowl of water at the base of the pipe, which often has several hoses for smokers to use.

The tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe, and the water in the hookah does not filter out the toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke. Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers do because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session, which can last as long as 60 minutes.

While research about hookah smoking is still emerging, evidence from the American Cancer Society shows that it poses many dangers:

  • Hookah smoke contains more toxins such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar and other hazardous substances, than cigarette smoke.
  • As with cigarette smoking, hookah has been linked to lung and oral cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
  • Hookah smoke poses dangers associated with secondhand smoke.
  • Hookah pipes used in bars and lounges may not be cleaned properly, risking the spread of infectious diseases. (9th Street Hookah Lounge, like many other hookah lounges, supplies patrons with a free, disposable mouthpiece as an alternative).

Columbia’s smoking ordinance, which passed in October 2006, prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars. Although the new hookah lounge is exempt, an old question comes up: When do public health concerns trump the rights of private business owners, and those of people engaging in legal behavior?

Do you think the new hookah lounge should be exempt from Columbia’s smoking ban?

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Ellis Smith February 23, 2010 | 7:06 a.m.

Let's ask the caterpillar (Alice in Wonderland).

Hopefully the Queen of Hearts won't require that the caterpillar's head be removed. That seems a bit extreme.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Binder February 25, 2010 | 12:01 p.m.

The point of the hookah lounge is for hookah smokers and aficionados to get together and socialize. People who don't smoke hookah wouldn't go in there. So, where's the public health concern? Smokers know exactly what they're doing to their health. Additionally, if they're not a food/drink selling establishment, they're clearly exempt from Columbia's smoking ordinance.

If the public doesn't want to be exposed to the smoke, they can just not patronize the 9th Street Hookah Lounge. It's as simple as that. Let private business be just that: private business.

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