Columbus Council To Consider Hooka Lounge Regulations On Monday
The City of Columbus is preparing to enact new regulations governing hooka lounges.
City Council held a public hearing in December about the plan, and held another one last night on proposed changes to that plan. The changes would force hookah lounges to close between 2 am and 7am , and link the establishments to the city's law prohibiting tobacco sales to people under the age of 21. They also require owners to obtain a waiver from the state's indoor smoking ban, and the establishments would be licensed by the Columbus Board of Health. City leaders say work on the proposal began after members of the local Somali community approached them with concerns about how hooka lounges related to juvenile criminal activity and truancy. They say teens are getting up in the middle of the night, going to lounges that are unregulated and sometimes engaging in criminal activity. Among those with concerns is Mohamud Jama, editor of the 'Somali Post' local newspaper. He says the community has no problem with businesses creating jobs.
But lounge owners last night said the proposed regulations would be unfair. Among them is Tarik Ezzine, who says his customers tend to avoid bars and look for other forms of entertainment. He says 30 percent of his sales at his E. 5th Avenue lounge happen after 2 am weekdays and more than 50 percent come after 2 am on weekends. Ezzine says if hooka lounges must close at 2am, so should other establishments that sell tobacco.
But Lara Baker-Morrish with the city attorney's office says the difference is one of tobacco consumption over purchase.
Baker-Morrish says the city looked at regulations in other municipalities such as Hilliard and Seattle before crafting this proposal. Romeo Esa owns a lounge on Mt. Pleasant Avenue. He says he and other owners are willing to hire additional security as means to stay open after 2am.
The owners also say they already are regulated by the state. Under the plan, unlicensed lounges could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, and repeat offenders could lose their licenses for up to five years. Council member Mitch Brown chaired last night's hearing, and said the panel is expected to consider the legislation this coming Monday.