Celebrity favorite hookah lounges in Los Angeles are threatened to close as the city considers banning flavored tobacco.
The ban, to be discussed by the city council’s Health Committee hearing today, is a bid to curb tobacco use among teenagers, as national data show rising rates of teens vaping, particularly opting for flavored e-cigarettes.
The city is mulling six variations on a ban, from a total ban to one with exemptions, but the City Attorney Michael N Feuer recommends the strictest.
LA-based Bella Hadid, pictured using a shisha pipe, is one of many celebrities who hang out at hookah lounges, which may shutter following a flavored tobacco ban
Drake is a fan of hookah lounges, which may shutter in LA if the ban on flavored tobacco passes. Hookah pipes contain 15-20 percent tobacco, with flavorings such as mint or apple
Shaquille O’Neal pictured at Habibi Cafe, the first ever hookah lounge in LA and a popular celebrity hang-out in Westwood
James Harden has also spent time at Habibi Cafe in LA, whose owner Saad Fakher fears a flavored tobacco ban
Hookah lounge owners are outraged.
Arnie Abramyan, chair of a campaign group representing LA’s hookah lounges, said: ‘Hookah is a social ritual that is an ancient tradition for many minority communities which has become popular in LA due to the growing diversity of our population.
‘It is nothing like cigarettes and vapes.’
Abramyan pointed the low rate of young people using hookah. CDC data released today showed that just 3.4 percent of teens use hookah, compared to a third of teens who vape, 7.6 percent who use cigars, and 5.8 percent who use cigarettes.
‘There are good reasons for hookah’s lack of appeal to minors,’ Abramyan said.
‘It can only be smoked through a large water pipe which cannot be concealed or carried around, which takes time and patience to prepare and about an hour to smoke.
‘Hookah is a social occasion, not a quick fix nicotine hit like a cigarette or vape.’
Hookah lounges use flavored tobacco, known as shisha, with options such as apple, cherry or mint.
A tradition of Arabic, Persian, Armenian, Indian, Turkish and African cultures, it is smoked through a large water pipe, usually in groups.
Each pipe contains about 15-20 percent tobacco.
LA’s proposed flavored tobacco ban comes months after the California Senate rowed back plans for a state-wide ban, adding a clause that made hookah bars exempt because it is ‘part of Middle Eastern tradition.’
It meant the bill lost the support of the American Lung Association in California, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, groups that are scrambling to curb rising rates of teen tobacco use.
Mark Pampanin, a spokesman for Councilmember David Ryu, chair of LA’s Health Committee, said Ryu’s ‘focus has been on ensuring that we pass a strong restriction that keeps young people from being roped into Big Tobacco.’
Charlie Hunnam, who spends time in LA, pictured at a shisha bar in London
Blanca Blanco enjoys a hookah with friends while out for dinner in Marrakech
A tradition of Arabic, Persian, Armenian, Indian, Turkish and African cultures, hookah pipes, which contain shisha, are smoked through a large water pipe, usually in groups. Pictured: Mike Tyson
TEEN TOBACCO USE BY NUMBERS
HIGH SCHOOL TOBACCO USE
- E-cigarettes – 27.5%
- Cigars – 7.6%
- Cigarettes – 5.8%
- Smokeless tobacco – 4.8%
- Hookahs – 3.4%
- Pipe tobacco – 1.1%
MIDDLE SCHOOL TOBACCO USE
- E-cigarettes – 10.5%
- Cigars – 2.3%
- Cigarettes – 2.3%
- Smokeless tobacco – 1.8%
- Hookahs – 1.6%
‘His concern as chair of the Health Committee is the health of our city and especially the health of young people.’
Pampanin added: ‘It’s not in [Ryu’s] interest to harm local businesses or small businesses as an immigrant whose parents owned a small business.
‘At the end of the day, he is not on the side of young people smoking so if someone’s business model relies on that, that’s not something we could support.’
Hours before the committee hearing, the CDC released new data on teen tobacco use, showing 6.2 million high schoolers and middle schoolers use tobacco – an increase from last year.
CDC director Dr Robert Redfield said the figures show were are losing the progress made to curb tobacco use and nicotine addiction.
Eric McKandes, owner of Mid City’s Legacy Lounge, the first African American hookah lounge in LA, said hookah lounges are not to be blamed for the rise in teen nicotine addiction. They have been running long before the recent uptick in teen nicotine addiction, and are barely used by teens.
He says the move would simply deprive adults of an alcohol-free space to socialize.
‘These lounges are social spaces for people who want a night out with friends without alcohol,’ McKandes said.
‘Why should it be OK to go to a bar and get drunk but not to a hookah lounge to share a cultural experience? Banning hookah lounges would be like banning Irish pubs.’
Saad Fakher, who owns Habibi Cafe, the first ever hookah lounge in LA, a popular celebrity hang-out in Westwood, said: ‘It would be shameful if people were to lose the social outlet that hookah offers because of unrelated concerns about youth vaping. Hookah is nothing like vaping or cigarettes.’