Columbus City Council is considering proposed legislation that would regulate hooka lounges.
City leaders says the proposal was crafted 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.
Ohio State University law professor Micah Berman says there are at least a dozen hooka lounges in the OSU campus area alone. And his research shows many young people first get exposed to hooka in college.
Berman and local health officials say hooka lounges are also gateways to tobacco use and possibly the use of cannabis. Lara Baker-Morrish with the Columbus City Attorney's office says a draft of the proposed regulations would require hooka lounge operators to bar entrance and usage to people under the age of 21, and requires them to comply with the state's indoor smoking ban, which currently includes exemptions for retailers or lounges located in free-standing buildings. The proposal also bans hooka lounges from operating between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It requires operators to obtain a license, with failure to do so resulting in a fine of up to 1 thousand dollars and/or up to six months in jail. It also gives Columbus Public Health the authority to license establishments and enforce the regulations.
Baker-Morrish says the city looked at regulations in other municipalities such as Hilliard and Seattle before crafting this proposal. Some hooka lounge owners question the need for the proposal. They say hooka is a stress-relieving product, not a drug. Many like these two say they obey all current laws while providing a valuable service.
Council President and incoming City Attorney Zach Klein is spearheading the city's effort, and says the proposed regulations are designed to improve local quality of life.
The city held a public hearing on the proposal last week, and Klein says more hearings are expected before a final proposal gets a council vote.