Bill Banning New Hookah Lounges Passed by Oregon Legislature

The Oregon House passed a bill banning new hookah lounges this week. The measure now awaits Governor John Kitzhaber’s signature. The Republic reports that Gov. Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill.

The primary sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Carolyn Tomei, told the newspaper that the bill was changed in the last days of the state’s legislative session and she no longer supports it. She says the changes may allow new hookah lounges to open. Supporters of the bill say the change was made to allow a small number of cigar businesses to continue operation, and disagree that it would allow a significant growth of hookah lounges.

Currently 26 smoke shops are certified in Oregon, including both cigar and hookah lounges, which are allowed to have smoking indoors.  Tomei’s original bill would have added severe restrictions to the definition of a smoke shop to prevent any more hookah lounges from opening, while grandfathering in existing lounges. The bill would have allowed the opening of hookah bars that had submitted applications by Dec. 31, 2010. Under the last-minute changes to the bill, new hookah lounges would be banned, but the new restrictions would not be retroactive, allowing applications for hookah lounges to be filed until the day the governor signs the bill.

A spokeswoman for Oregon’s Public Health Division, Christine Stone, said there has been a small increase in applications for new smoke shops, but it is not known whether the rise is related to the legislation.

Oregon is not the only state considering banning hookah lounges. Hookahs, or water pipes, would be banned or limited under bills introduced in California and Connecticut. Some cities in California and New York have already taken these steps, while Boston and Maine no longer exempt hookah bars from their indoor-smoking laws.

Hookah bars feature water pipes that are used to smoke a blend of tobacco, molasses and fruit called shisha. Researchers say that contrary to the belief of many hookah smokers, the water in the pipe does not filter all the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted in a report that the smoke inhaled in a typical one-hour hookah session can equal 100 cigarettes or more. The WHO report also stated that even after it has been passed through water, the tobacco smoke in a hookah pipe contains high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.

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    Steve Westen

    July 5, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    It’s one thing to ban smoking indoors at a facility that caters to the general public; which includes individuals who don’t smoke. But its a whole other subject when you are strictly banning places whose main purpose is to provide an area for smokers to go. I am not a smoker, though I do enjoy hookah a few times a year. But I do see the side of a smoker. They are banned from smoking indoors or so many feet from a building. They are finalyl given a place that they can participate in their chosen method of entertainment with other individuals who chose the same path, and yet we won’t let them do this together in a designated area. Whats teh difference between smoking a hookah in a shop and doing it at home? No one that goes into a hookah bar is angry that when they enter the hookah bar their is smoking. The only people that go into a hookah bar are desiring for it to contain smoke. The smoke can’t effect anyone that is no in the establishment. This article is even more ridiculous in that it goes onto further focus on the whole “negative” sides to tobacoo and the fact that a water pipe doesn’t filter out cancer creating chemicals… WHO CARES!!! The focus of these bills, should not (in my opinion), be on the dangers of tobacco, we know this. Trying to ban hookahs due to the “safety” aspect is ricdulous. If you are going to ban a product ban all of it, not just the kind of tobacco that you don’t like. Its assine to think people are trying to control other peoples personal liberties like this. Who is anyone to say what I should or should not do to my body if I am not hurting anyone else!

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    June 30, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    Research challenge: does the intense exposure– equalling 100 cigarettes– play a significant role in addicting unwary youngsters to nicotine, after which they will crave and buy the “regular” (over $3000/year in a high-tax state)?

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