GOP float changes to e-cigarettes, hookah ban

By | November 30, 2017


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Republican Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker wants hookah bars to be exempt for two years from a Democratic-sponsored measure that would ban the smoking device along with electronic cigarettes from indoor use.

Eight Democratic members sponsored a proposal on March 1 that would add electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, and hookah to the city’s indoor smoking ban. The measure was filed at the urging of Mayor Greg Fischer, who used his State of the City address in February to publicly lobby council members to extend the prohibition.

In a 77-page report, the city’s health department said including those products “will act to protect Louisville Metro’s clean air standards, protect against secondhand exposure to harmful chemicals and improve enforcement efforts.” But Republican members have bemoaned how this move could affect entrepreneurs, including many foreign-born business owners, who have poured their life savings into their store and are unaware of a potential ban.

“This would definitely blindside them and lower the boom in a very unsuspecting way,” said Parker, R-18th District.

Parker wants to define a “smoking establishment” as a business where at least 85 percent of sales are tobacco and tobacco-related products; that is not licensed to sell food or alcohol; has an entrance that opens directly to the outside; and prohibits anyone under 18 years of age to enter. She described those provisions as allowing exemptions for certain businesses.

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The changes also would exempt hookah bars from all provisions of the ban until July 1, 2019. She said that would give entrepreneurs a two-year window to decide whether to change their business model or build an outdoor space to allow hookah.

“This makes it better, and protects our small businesses,” Parker said.

Sarah Moyer, medical director for the city’s health department, said anti-smoking laws work best without providing loopholes for area businesses, which she described as bad for public health.

“Any proposed exemptions represent a step backward from the standard of clean indoor air quality we have come to expect in Louisville since our comprehensive smoke-free ordinance was enacted in 2008,” Moyer said.

Louisville has seen an explosion in storefronts either selling or allowing the use of e-cigarette and hookahs, but city officials have few estimates on how many operate citywide because no permits are required for such shops. Republican members estimate about 80 businesses would be affected by a ban.

Councilwoman Cindi Fowler, D-14th, who isn’t a co-sponsor of the ban, told the Courier-Journal she doesn’t support all of the proposed GOP amendments but that she is “concerned about putting hookah establishments out of business after possibly putting up their life savings to start their business.”

A Democratic spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the measure’s sponsors agree with Parker’s amendments.

Health officials pointed out that many bars and restaurants were opposed to the indoor smoking ban nine years ago but that the city’s hospitality industry adjusted to those regulations.

“We believe hookah bars, many of which already have outdoor smoking areas, and vape shops, can adapt and continue to operate their businesses without harming public health,” Moyer said.

Although commonly associated with one another, the practice of smoking e-cigarettes and hookahs are different. The hookah is a single or multi-stemmed instrument that allows users to inhale flavored tobacco, called shisha, or other substances that date back hundreds of years. An e-cigarette is typically a handheld electronic device that individuals use to inhale a flavored liquid as vapor, which has become an alternative to smoking among enthusiasts.

Reporter Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at 502-582-4475 or pbailey@courier-journal.com

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