Hookah laws draw Ire

Imposed restrictions on the use of hookah products are impractical

Recently proposed legislation will prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from using hookah and ban the sale of hookah products, in addition to a plethora of other rules. Supporters cite public health as the reasoning behind the new legislation, while critics claim this is a case of selective concern. The rationale behind the new legislation is first to close a loophole exploited by tobacco-less hookah bars and to ensure public health and safety.

Hookah originated in Persia during the 1500s. It is generally a mixture of tobacco, molasses and a vegetable sweetener. Hookah comes in a variety of fruity flavors and can also be made into a tobacco or nicotine-free herbal form.

This offers hookah bars a way to work around the Smoke Free Air Act, which effectively bans the use of cigarettes in virtually all workplaces and recreational spaces. The law was recently updated to include e-cigarettes. With the enactment of this new legislation, hookah bars would only be able to offer hookah to five percent of their tables.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a noticeable increase in hookah use among youths and college students. Many young hookah users doubt that hookah is as dangerous as smoking conventional cigarettes. The best way to overpower a trickle of doubt is to flood the naked truth. The smoke contains many of the same harmful toxins found in cigarette smoke. These toxins have been associated with lung cancer, respiratory illness and low birthrates. Consuming the charcoal used to heat the tobacco increases health risks by producing smoke containing large quantities of carbon monoxide and other cancer-causing chemicals.

Due to the method of smoking, including frequency of puffing, depth of inhalation and length of the smoking session, hookah smokers may absorb higher concentrations of the same toxins found in cigarette smoke. The amount of smoke inhaled during a typical hour-long hookah session is 150 times the amount inhaled from smoking a cigarette.

The downside and only legitimate argument against these new regulations is the potential loss of business. If enacted this new law would prevent small smoke shops from selling hookah products, which would cut their customer base in half. Small businesses would suffer greatly under the new law. Proponents of the legislation have been accused of selective concern.

The detractors point out the obvious risk of using alcohol and wonder why bars that sell alcohol are also not getting shut down. But like a broken needle, they are missing the point. Many steps have been taken to inform the public on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. These same steps are completely fair and should be applied to hookah.

Hookah should be under the same rules and regulations as alcohol and cigarettes. It should have health warning labels, and misleading claims of safety should be prohibited. There should be more education about the risks of smoking hookah coming from health professionals and regulators, benefitting the public at-large.