Local governments ignore laws against hookah lounges in California (not to mention their public health threat)

Who's minding the store at hookah bars in California? Smoking and drinking at indoor establishments is illegal

Hookah bars are proliferating in California, and around the country. Though they claim to be about a multicultural experience, they are really about attracting young people to smoke tobacco. People believe that because you smoke fruit-flavored tobacco through a waterpipe, it isn’t dangerous. Wrong! And those hookah bars in California, they are illegal, unless they only allow smoking outdoors.

Local governments aren’t following the law. For example, the San Diego County Planning Commission, at the recommendation of the county Department of Planning and Land Use, voted 6-0 in October to grant an appeal to allow the Blu Flayme hookah lounge in Spring Valley to get a license to serve beer. Planning Commissioners said that allowing the hookah lounge to sell beer was good for businesses. But it’s illegal. All of the hookah lounges in San Diego County and everywhere else in California that allow indoor smoking and serve refreshments are illegal. They violate the California Smoke-free Workplace Act and the state Business and Professions Code.

At the county planning commission hearing, the owner of the Blu Flayme contended that

Smoke-filled room at the Blu Flayme. Can somebody check state law... and maybe some IDs?

smoking hookahs is harmless because people are basically smoking sugar. I guess the planning commissioners actually believed him…

Hookah tobacco is generally about half percent crude tobacco and half percent honey, molasses or fruit pulp. But just because it’s not 100 percent tobacco doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Hookah smoke contains carbon monoxide, tar and many carcinogenic hydrocarbons. Plus, it contains much higher quantities of toxic heavy metals compared to cigarettes.

Hookah smoke is very dangerous. This is from a World Health Organization report:

A waterpipe smoking session may expose the smoker to more smoke over a longer period to time than occurs when smoking a cigarette. Cigarette smokers typically take 8-12, 40-75 ml puffs over about 5-7 minutes and inhale 0.5 to 0.6 litres of smoke. In contrast, waterpipe smoking sessions typically last 20-80 minutes, during which the smoker may take 50-200 puffs which range from about 0.15 to 1 litre each. The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.

But if government agencies that allow hookah lounges don’t care about health threats, at least they should care about breaking the law.

First of all, California Business and Professions Code Section 22962 (a) through (e) prohibits sale of alcohol or food for consumption on-site at a tobacco store. Smoking is allowed in tobacco stores, but you can’t sell food or alcohol in them. A Hookah lounge that sells alcohol and food can’t be a bona fide tobacco store. The county counsel, city attorneys and the district attorney are supposed to enforce this law

Then, Labor Code Section 6404.5 prohibits smoking tobacco in hookah pipes in an enclosed place of employment. It’s a violation of the California Smoke-free Workplace Act. Now, smoking is allowed in an establishment that’s owner-operated and if no employees or vendors ever enter the building. But even one part-time employee, volunteer, vendor, custodian, anybody entering the business for business purposes except the owner means no smoking indoors. Local law enforcement agencies and local health departments are supposed to enforce this law.

It’s all laid out in this packet from California’s Clean Air Project.

San Diego County probably has about a dozen hookah lounges that permit indoor smoking and serve food and/or alcohol. There are probably hundreds throughout California. And they’re all illegal. How a local government agency in California can support licensing an illegal establishment, especially one that harms the health of patrons and employees, is beyond me.

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14 Responses to Local governments ignore laws against hookah lounges in California (not to mention their public health threat)

  1. John Byrom says:

    Boy with this decision from the County Planning Board, if I owned a bar I would be bringing in Hookahs and would start selling the tobacco. No more sending patrons outside. This is the problem when a bunch of builders are put on a planning board and are asked to decide issues about alcohol or tobacco outlets. We get the same uninformed decisions with no input from the Prevention Community or Health Department. The Planning Board takes the staff report as gospel and does what they say. It’s time that these decisions are taken away from the Planning Boards and put into a new Public Safty Board that has knowledge of Califionia Law and health issues.

  2. Dennis Wahlgren says:

    I think this may be incorrect:
    “smoking is allowed in an establishment that’s owner-operated and if no employees or vendors ever enter the building. But even one part-time employee, volunteer, vendor, custodian, anybody entering the business for business purposes except the owner means no smoking indoors.”

    The code says:

    In addition to workplaces specifically listed on page 3 of this fact sheet, any employer with five or fewer employees (full or part-time) may permit smoking where:
    1. The smoking area is not accessible to minors.
    2. All employees who enter the smoking area consent to permit smoking, and no one is required as part of their job to work in an area where smoking is permitted.
    3. Air from the smoking area is exhausted directly outside.

    • rachelrachel says:

      “How a local government agency in California can support licensing an illegal establishment, especially one that harms the health of patrons and employees, is beyond me.”

      It’s very simple; they’re corrupt.

  3. rique says:

    What I found interesting is the list of chemicals of hookah tobacco vs cigarettes. I’m not saying that hookah smoke is healthy, but if cigarettes are legal (with their additives upwards of 400 plus chemicals) then why such heat on Hookahs? I hear a lot of gripe over how it attracts young adults. SO WHAT! The fact remains that they are adults none the less; able to make their own adult choices and adult decisions. The best thing one can do is educate and leave the individual to make their own adult decisions.

    Smoking is not for everyone, if you don’t want to smoke….then don’t. I don’t see what’s so hard about that? These hookah lounges have the primary purpose of smoking. It should not come to anyone’s surprise that you’ll be around smoke in a hookah lounge. It’s like going to a water park and expecting not to get wet. My point is, it’s expected. Now smoking in restaurants is another story. Their primary purpose is to serve food and beverage. If one wants to eat without having to put up with someone else’s smoke, I think that’s great. They shouldn’t have to put up with it. They came to eat, not to inhale someone’s cigarette smoke; but hookah lounges are different. It’s expected and wanted!

    • jgogek says:

      That’s not the way we do things in California. The California Smokefree Workplace Act was put in place to protect workers from second-hand smoke. We do not take the libertarian view in this state that everybody should fend for themselves, although that is unfortunately a predominant view in America right now. Libertarianism and neo-liberalism are the pathways to a declining nation.

      • kost says:

        like you said its too protect workers. if a non smoking business allows smoking, then i agree. If you don’t like smoke, i suggest not getting a job at a hookah lounge. Its like saying your against firearms and applying for a job at a gun factory. Anything in excess can kill people. Its funny how many people want to tell everyone else how to live their lives. then they give us b.s. that “its affecting the rest of us”. If that was true then stop driving your cars and make them illegal, cuz we can’t escape that pollution whether we want to or not. You can avoid smoking establishments!

  4. Pingback: ATODblog in 2010 in review | alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

  5. CM says:

    People have been smoking hookah for centuries. It really isn’t a big deal. There’s too many government bureaucrats trying to be my mommy or daddy. How about letting adults make their own decisions? If we want to smoke hookah, or cigarettes, or cigars, who are you to say, “Don’t do it, that’s bad for you.” Let people make their own decisions. It’s one thing to ban smoking in public, because that does infringe on other people’s rights to not inhale smoke. However, people should be able to go to certain places where they can engage in their vices. I’ve seen strip clubs that people can eat in, but I can’t smoke a hookah in a place that everyone expects to have smoke? Come on now…

  6. Derek says:

    I’m not sure if your reading of the Business and Professions Code is correct. You may want to take another look at that. The body of that paragraph is specifically to outline what would qualify a store to be a primarily tobacco based store. Selling food and beverage items on the premise is one of the things that make it “not” an establishment solely based on tobacco sales.

    Additionally, the CA Smoke Free Act has exclusions that would easily fall within the “Workplace Exceptions” clause, especially with a smaller operation. I, for example, could easily see a hookah lounge being run by 5 or fewer employees.

    Just because you hate the idea of a lounge such as this operating, doesn’t mean you have to misinterpret the laws and misinform the rest of the public. If you don’t like the establishment, use the greatest form of democracy: don’t spend your money there.

    • Sam says:

      I own a hookah lounge and everything you said is FALSE.. Because I had to go through the city to make sure there is no one around my store that will get hurt from the hookah smoke.. Second the health department and the fire department and let us not forget the police department… If hookah lounges were illegal they wouldn’t let me open.. I card everyone come in and I got a letter from the police department thank me for that.. Also millions of people love hookah if you don’t like the idea keep it to yourself please

  7. Eric says:

    This post is wrong in so many ways, but I’ll limit myself to legal issues.

    “First of all, California Business and Professions Code Section 22962 (a) through (e) prohibits sale of alcohol or food for consumption on-site at a tobacco store.” Wrong. It defines a tobacco store as a place where food and alcohol are not sold. That has nothing to do with hookah lounges, unless they are claiming to be tobacco stores for other, legal purposes.

    “Then, Labor Code Section 6404.5 prohibits smoking tobacco in hookah pipes in an enclosed place of employment.” Wrong. It provides for the exception Dennis W mentioned above, with which any hookah lounge could easily be brought into compliance, that is not already so.

    In other words: the state laws you cite are irrelevant.

  8. Neeko says:

    your a kinda slow i can see because your exempt from those laws if you have good ventilation and everyone is over 18. You need to just take a chill pill, smoke some hookah, and stop complaining, because I am pretty sure that hookah smokers are not creating a hassle for you.
    Oh and stfu.

  9. Tasha says:

    OK if an employee is working in that environment, they have obviously agreed to those conditions, but what makes me so ticked off is when it’s a safety hazards to customers!! How can a club be allowed to set a lit up hookah right on the dance floor where people are walking and moving around, its so dangerous!! Then the employees walk around with a net full of burning coals, passing all these dancing people, someone could get hurt real bad, its ridiculous! I will be reporting this and hopefully some action can be taken.

  10. Be it the actual cigarette useful for going smoking, the chewing assortment or the special sensing shag regarding smoking your water pipe, all tobacco damages your wellbeing.tobacco pipe

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