03/01/13 — Council weighs hookah bars OK

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Council weighs hookah bars OK

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on March 1, 2013 1:46 PM

Goldsboro City Council members passed the hookah at their meeting Feb. 18.

Well, pictures of hookahs.

The pictures were provided by Planning Director Randy Guthrie to illustrate what a handful of residents had expressed interest in: allowing the opening of establishments that rent out hookahs -- large water pipes used for smoking flavored tobacco -- within the city limits.

The problem was that Guthrie wasn't sure how the City Council would want to classify the establishments, which would, under current policy, be considered places of entertainment without ABC permits.

Guthrie brought the issue to the council to determine whether the requests should be treated as conditional use permits, which require more oversight from the council.

Council members said the conditional use route, which is the process used in the past for Internet sweepstakes cafes, would be appropriate.

Hookah pipes were first used in the Middle East and India in the 1500s but have grown in popularity in the United States over the past decade, especially near college campuses.

Legislation caused a large shift in the way the establishments did business, however, when the state's smoking ban came into effect in 2010.

That ban prevents smoking inside establishments with ABC permits or that are subject to health inspections due to food handling or dish washing.

Allen Moore, environmental health specialist with the Wayne County Health Department, said precedents in Wake and Pitt counties showed that hookah rental establishments that didn't serve alcohol or food weren't subject to the ban.

Instead, these establishments serve soda and tea and use disposable cups, he said.

"By doing that (not serving alcohol) they avoided the state ABC permit and not serving potentially hazardous food allowed them to avoid the environmental health permit," he said.

Another way that the ban can be avoided, he said, is to only allow customers to "smoke" a special molasses or sugarcane product that contains no tobacco but still has the flavors of regular hookah tobacco.

That would allow an establishment to keep its ABC permits and serve food, but he said those interested in opening hookah lounges in Wayne County indicated they weren't interested in that route.

"They said they had no desire to have the ABC permit," he said.

While the conditional use permit request procedure has now been cleared, Guthrie said it wasn't possible to know when the first hookah establishment may open in Wayne County.

"No one has pulled the trigger yet," he said.