House Votes to Place Restrictions on Hookah Bars

Existing hookah lounges are grandfathered in, but no new businesses will be allowed to open

April 28, 2011—Despite opposition from hookah lounge owners, it appears as if the Oregon Health Authority will be given the authority to create a certification system to regulate such lounges. No new businesses will be allowed to open. 
The House voted 35-23 on Thursday today to also change the definition of “smoke shop” in the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act.
House Bill 2726 also imposes a fine of up to $1,000 per month to business owners who do not provide their employees with a smoke-free area.
Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie), the bill’s sponsor, said hookah lounges contain toxic and dangerous chemicals that pose a range of health hazards “unhealthy at best to hazardous at worse” for youth and the lounge’s employees.
“What we’re trying to do is create a safe environment,” she said, for youth between the ages of 18 and 24, who, at their impressionable age, are most likely to become addicted to tobacco.
“In a typical evening, the smoker inhales as many carcinogens as smoking 100 cigarettes,” she said on the House floor. “[This bill] will stop the proliferation of new smoking dens [targeting youth].”
The bill closes a loophole in the Clean Indoor Air Act, also known as the Smoke-Free Workplace Law, which allows the sampling of tobacco products at smoke shops and cigar bars for ‘retail decision-making.’
Tomei said the loophole allows hookah lounges to proliferate across the state. Such lounges target youth and can cause them to become addicted to smoking because the tobacco in a hookah pipe is filtered through water and flavored like candy.
Last year, the Oregon Health Authority’s Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention division sent its interns on undercover missions to scope out the scene at hookah lounges, and reported back that they felt extremely pressured to smoke.
Under the legislation, smoke shops offering customers the ability to sample tobacco cannot serve food or beverages or offer the Lottery. Those under age 18 cannot enter, there’s a seating capacity of four, and the smoke shop must be a stand-alone business. Smoke shops can also change owners and move under certain conditions.
Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) spoke against the bill, stating the new regulations “would create many unintended consequences for smoke and cigar shops. This bill has serious flaws.”
The bill was substantially changed from its original version, which would have closed Oregon’s hookah lounges.
Business owners decried the original version of the bill, which was amended to grandfather in existing hookah lounges and prohibit future businesses.
Although Tomei thought the amendments “were much too generous,” she continued to support the bill.
To learn More:
List of hookah bars and lounges in Oregon:
Oregon Health Authority Tobacco Prevention and Education Program 2010 report on hookah smoking by Oregon youth (pdf):
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"Free" at whose cost? I hope businesses are providing extensive health benefits to all employees so that if they do develop a tobacco related disease, the taxpayers of Oregon are not stuck with footing the bill for the costs of treatment...or are those businesses just interested in making money, with no regard to the consequences for employees and patrons...