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
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.