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Arab-style smoking cafes that were exempted from the city’s landmark anti-tobacco law are under fire as a Bay Ridge councilman prepares to stop any new hookah bars from opening and seeks to regulate those that remain.
Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) said his bill would block any new hookah establishments from opening starting in 2012 — but it won’t stop any existing shops from inviting customers to smoke water pipes filled with shisha, a mixture of fruit, molasses and sometimes tobacco.
Gentile started writing the legislation after complaints flooded in about several hookah cafes in his district — which neighbors said cause a nuisance with their incessant puffing and passing. But the councilman was quick point out that his bill would not hurt the owners of existing cafes.
“My intent is not to shut businesses that people have poured their time, money and energy into growing,” Gentile said. “Our intent is to make sure New York City has a healthier future to look forward to.”
Shisha is supposed to be tobacco-free, though some cafes do include some of Walter Raleigh’s crop in its mixes.
But whether it has tobacco or not, Gentile argues that shisha should be treated the same as tobacco because they both release cancer-causing carcinogens when burned.
The city exempted non-tobacco products from the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002, but the Health Department has conceded that it rarely examines the composition of shisha because it is expensive to test samples for the presence of tobacco.
Of course, Gentile’s smoke flies in the face of those who enjoy the aromatic Arab tradition.
“Saying they put tobacco in [the shisha] is like arguing that I put weed in there — of course it’s illegal, and individual stores should be busted if they screw up,” said Kimberly Gale, who enjoyed a fat bowl of shisha at Mediterranean Shawarma in Greenpoint last week.
But she was dubious about Gentile’s bill.
“It’s just going to raise the price for this hookah bar if no new ones open,” she said. “Nothing else will happen.”
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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