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News Summary

Hookah bar slips through legislative loophole

Publication Date: 5/22/2011
  • Author:Lauren Fox
  • Publication:Eugene (OR) Register-Guard

Al Narah, Eugene’s newest hookah lounge, may have opened in the nick of time.

If Oregon lawmakers pass House Bill 2726, new hookah bars would be banned from opening, but the 62 existing lounges statewide plus any established before July would be grandfathered in.

“We won’t have to worry about the law even if it passed,” Al Narah manager Jesse Lascano said as smoke billowed out from the corner of his mouth.

Hookah bars are shops where customers indulge in smoking varied tobacco products using the tall water pipes.

The bill, which has cleared the Oregon House of Representatives, would tighten a loophole in Oregon’s Smokefree Workplace Law, which allows people in smoke shops to sample the tobacco.

Under the proposed changes, hookah lounges and smoke shops wouldn’t be allowed to provide seating for more than four people, essentially making it impossible for new hookah lounges to be created.

Outside of his shop at 1530 Willamette St., Lascano inhaled tobacco from a blue hookah, a tall water pipe complete with valves and hoses.

“It’s really a fun, laid back sort of thing,” Lascano said.

Since it officially started serving smokers three weeks ago, the hookah lounge has become popular among some, including University of Oregon student Alysah Dahlstrom.

“This is a great place to come and relax,” Dahlstrom said. “Last night, a friend and I came here and worked on our chemistry homework. It’s a lot more comfortable than the library.”

But not everyone has welcomed Al Narah and its tobacco fumes to the neighborhood.

“In Eugene, we have people who understand hookah, but there are always a few who don’t get what we’re doing,” Lascano said.

Eve Terran is one such resident. In a letter to The Register-Guard, Terran described an “assault of smoke and unpleasant, toxic smells” as she walked by the shop. Terran said she’s disappointed that the city hasn’t worked harder to protect the health of its citizens.

“There has been a violation of our protections, and I ask that the city and community step up and correct this,” Terran wrote.

But Eugene under its current ordinances doesn’t have the power to prohibit Al Narah, or Eugene’s other hookah lounge, Mirage, at 2164 W. Seventh Ave., from opening.

The loophole in Oregon’s Smokefree Workplace Law allows hookah lounges. In 2009, the law was amended to prohibit indoor smoking in nearly all workplaces, except for smoke shops and cigar bars; hookah bars are considered smoke shops.

The state defines smoke shops as free-standing businesses that generate 75 percent or more of their revenue from selling tobacco, and that don’t sell alcohol or lottery tickets...