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Councilmembers Push Bills to Limit Hookah Smoking in the City

By Carolina Pichardo | February 26, 2016 2:00pm | Updated on February 29, 2016 8:55am
 A trio of city councilmen introduced a package of bills aimed at limiting hookah use in the city.
A trio of city councilmen introduced a package of bills aimed at limiting hookah use in the city.
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NEW YORK CITY — It may be harder for New Yorkers to smoke hookah in the city if a group of city councilmembers have their way. 

Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez, Corey Johnson and Vincent J. Gentile introduced a package of bills during a hearing of the Committee of Health Thursday targeting hookah smoking — from raising the age limit to buy shisha to 21 to banning its sale at some bars.

Councilman Gentile, whose Brooklyn district includes Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach and Dyker Heights, described the bills as a “major step to a healthier city.”

“It’s time to address the elephant in the room,” he said during the hearing, adding that because shisha is smoked through water, middle school and high school students — the growing population of users — were under the impression that it was less harmful.  

Gentile said the bills in particular will expand the city’s Smoke-Free Air Act to include non-tobacco shisha, as well as allowing existing hookah bars that make a majority of their income from shisha sales to continue operating, as long as "they register and meet certain standards." He did not provide further details at the hearing about what those standards would be.

Rodriguez, who commented on how hookah smoking impacts a large portion of his Uptown district, said his bills were aimed at combating the negative health impacts on the community, particularity with kids.

“I am alarmed when I see 14- and 15-year-olds smoking hookah on the corner,” he said. “We've all seen the ads on TV discussing how smoking one full hookah pad is akin to smoking up to 100 individual cigarettes. These numbers are staggering when you think about what it's doing to the lungs of our city's kids.”

One of Rodriguez’s bills proposes changing the legal age of buying hookah-related products from 18 to 21, while the other would force restaurants and bars that offer hookah to limit the space where it's smoked to 5 percent of the venue's seating area.

The third bill, which Rodriguez introduced last year, would ban the sale of hookah-related products including shisha and water pipes at city businesses — including nightlife venues — that make less than half of their revenue from tobacco sales.

Johnson, whose district covers Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village and a small portion of the Upper West Side, also recently introduced a bill to ban the use of smokeless tobacco products, like chewing tobacco and snus, at sporting events and stadiums in the city. He said the Mets and Yankees support that legislation.

Thursday's public hearing was the first step in the process for this package of bills, before they are negotiated with the Council and other stakeholders to ensure they can pass, explained Rodriguez's chief of staff, Russell Murphy. 

"If people want to support their passage, they can encourage other members not signed on to the bills to offer their support," he added. "As more members sign on, there is a greater chance the bills move."