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Town board approves legislation banning hookah bars outside industrial areas

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The Hempstead Town Board unanimously passed legislation last week banning new hookah lounges from being built near homes, schools and local community centers. The legislation, proposed by Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr., will restrict the operation of existing lounges in the town to manufacturing and industrial zones. 

“Restricting hookah lounges to light manufacturing and industrial zones is truly in the best interest of all residents of the Town of Hempstead,” said Dunne, a Republican from Levittown. “It is evident that the smoking of hookah tobacco can be harmful, particularly for young people, and may serve as a gateway to illegal drug use.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking tobacco in a hookah can lead to cancer of the mouth, lungs, stomach and esophagus, among other diseases. In addition, the charcoal used to heat the tobacco produces high levels of carcinogens, carbon monoxide and other chemicals, making this kind of smoking just as toxic as cigarettes. 

“The restriction of hookah lounges to prevent their placement near homes, schools, community centers and shopping areas is a common-sense and quality-of-life decision,” said Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen. “I fully support any laws that can help protect our children from starting habits that could negatively impact them for the rest of their lives.” 

Just one evening of hookah smoking can make nicotine levels in urine spike by more than 70 times, and also raise the levels of cancer-causing agents, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Long-term sessions of hookah smoking can result in the inhalation of even more chemicals than the average cigarette. 

At the hearing last week, several community groups, including the YES Community Counseling Center, which has locations in Levittown and Massapequa, and the East Meadow SMART Coalition spoke in favor of the legislation. “It is disheartening to hear the statistics of hookah use among middle school and high school students,” said Donna LaScala, director of the coalition. “This behavior poses a health risk. If, as the CDC reports, 2 percent of middle school and 5 percent of high school students visited a hookah lounge in the last 30 days, that would mean that 143 kids from Clarke Middle School and High School, Woodland and East Meadow High School, combined, visited one of these establishments. I fully support Councilman Dunne’s legislation restricting these lounges.”

Town officials noted that legislation would apply only to hookah lounges that open in the future or are in the process of opening. Those that are currently operating will not be affected. 

“Drug and alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking threaten the health and safety of our children,” said Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Republican from Wantagh. “I am proud to stand with Dennis, as Hempstead Town takes a strong stand against hookah lunges in residential communities.”

“This is a great first step in stopping the rising challenge of destructive decisions in our communities,” Dunne added.