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Steinway Street Hookah Lounges 'Out of Control,' Parents Say

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | September 27, 2012 8:21am

ASTORIA — The recent proliferation of hookah shops in Little Egypt might be harmful to children’s health, even if they are just passing by on the sidewalk, parents say.

While some restaurants in “Hookah Central,” on Steinway Street between 25th and 28th avenues, require customers to smoke indoors, other venues have set up chairs in front of entrances, where people enjoy smoking while sipping coffee.

And while the smell of apple and mango flavored smoke gives the area its unique character, some parents say the air has become unhealthy.

“It’s not good for the baby,” said Selna Ael, who on Tuesday afternoon was walking outside the hookah shops with her 6-month-old son, Ali.

An Iraqi immigrant, Ael said even though hookah smoking is popular in her homeland, she often avoids Steinway Street to protect her newborn from too much smoke.

Mustakin Khondkir, 34, a father of two children, ages 4 and 6, agreed about the potential danger.

“I quit smoking for my kids, but now they have to inhale all this hookah smoke,” added Khondkir, a cab driver, who has lived in the area for 17 years. “In the last two years the situation has been out of control.”

A spokeswoman for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said hookah lounges are not subject to smoke regulations as long as the hookahs are tobacco free.

A police source confirmed the 114th Precinct receives numerous complaints about smoke from a growing number of hookah venues on Steinway Street, especially during summer. The source added that it is illegal to place chairs outside without a permit.

Antonio Meloni, director of the New York Anti-Crime Agency, an Astoria-based non-profit whose office in located on the stretch, said he has also seen “a lot of underage people who should not be in these places — 16-year olds, 17-year olds.

"That’s been an issue,” he noted.

Even some of the owners of older hookah places on the block are unhappy about the recent proliferation of the venues in the area.

“I don’t like this competition,” said Labib Salama, 59, the owner of the Egyptian Coffee Shop, which claims to be the first hookah lounge in the United States.

Salama, who immigrated 30 years ago, opened his coffee shop on Steinway Street in 1996. It was the only hookah lounge in the area for many years, he said. Now he estimates there are nearly 30 places offering hookah on the small stretch of Steinway Street.

“If there is a pharmacy on the block, the next one should be 10 blocks away,” said Salama, who offers puffs for $3 or $4. “Here, there are no rules.”