New law may put flames out at Wilmington hookah bars

Reported by Kristy Ondo - bio|email
Reported by Max Winitz - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Wilmington is home to about one-fifth of all hookah bars in North Carolina, but the state smoking ban could effectively put them all out of business.

A hookah is a pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco. The pipe contains a long tube that draws the smoke through a bowl of water in order to cool it. Hookah smoking is popular among young adults, and North Carolina has about 20 hookah bars or lounges, mainly in college towns.

State Rep. Cullie Tarleton has withdrawn a proposed bill that would have allowed hookah bars to stay in business after the NC smoking ban for restaurants and bars goes into effect in January.

The law has a few exemptions including cigar bars, country clubs, and nonprofit fraternal organizations; but hookah bars didn't make the list.

"I think its hypocritical for them to exempt cigar bars and not hookah bars," said Juggling Gypsy manager Denny Best.  "You smoke at either place you go."

According to the News and Observer in Raleigh, some hookah bar owners asked Tarleton to pull the bill, because they say amendments to the bill would have put unfair restrictions on them.

As it stands, hookah bars will have to either stop allowing smoking or stop serving all food and beverages.  Some owners say eliminating one of the two would put them out of business.

"It's not going to be as cool as it once was," said customer Brian Campbell.  "This is a charm in a place like this.  You can sit around and smoke a hookah."

Opponents say the smoking law is to protect people's health and hookah's aren't promoting good health.

Now hookah bar owners are hoping to take the case to court before establishments around the state take an even bigger hit.

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