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La Marina's Herbal Hookahs Exempted from Smoking Ban, Owners Say

By  Carla Zanoni and Jill Colvin | September 18, 2012 9:42am 

UPPER MANHATTAN — A popular uptown restaurant overseen by the Parks Department says they have received special permission to be exempt from the smoking ban in city parks and public spaces because their hookah pipes use an herbal alternative to tobacco.

According to the establishment's spokesman Jaret Keller, La Marina uses herbal sheesha in its Middle Eastern-style hookah pipes, not tobacco, making the restaurant exempt from the city parks smoking ban.

The City has banned smoking at city parks, beaches, marinas and pedestrian plazas since 2011. The Parks Department did not immediately provide a comment. Parks Department sources said last week that all smoking apparatus, regardless of the tobacco content, are banned in city parks and marinas, including at La Marina.

Keller said the restaurant only sells the hookah table service outdoors, where patrons can choose from an assortment of flavors, including mint, guava and watermelon for $30 per unit with $15 refills.

La Marina contracts with the hookah distributor J.P.C. Entertainment, which has done a brisk business selling hookah to mulitple uptown nightlife establishments where hookah table service is also available.

According to J.P.C. Entertainment owner Eugene Abreu, the company sells “Alfakher” brand shisha in different flavors that “comes in a line of non- tobacco molasses,” according to a June 29 dated letter, which Abreu said he had to submit to the owners of La Marina before being given permission to sell the substance.

“Alfakher is the legal product that can be use in New York City without a permit or certificate, because it does not contain nicotine,” the letter reads.

Abreu said hookah smoking has been a popular offering at La Marina — enticing celebrities like Leonardo DeCaprio as well as visiting Major League baseball players to light up.