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Columbus City Council Tables Restrictions For Hookah Lounges

The Casablanca Cafe and Hookah Bar in Columbus.
Nick Evans
The Casablanca Cafe and Hookah Bar in Columbus.

In front of Casablanca Café and Hookah Bar, a worker carries out patio furniture and sets up a small sidewalk sign. Inside, the lighting is dim. Couches line the walls, and there are a couple of incense burners lazily smoking away.

The Columbus City Council considered placing tougher restrictions on hookah lounges like this one, but at Monday's meeting decided new ordinances would be "tabled indefinitely." 

The measure's sponsor, Mitchell Brown, declined to interview about why he wanted the ordinance tabled.

"Two of our members were not available for the meeting," Council Communications Director Lee Cole said in an email. Those council members were Pricilla Tyson and Elizabeth Brown. "This is an issue that touches several committees and members' interest areas, so we would like to have the members present to vote. Tabling also gives additional time to receive public feedback. Councilmember Brown expects to bring legislation back from the table when more members are present."

City law prohibits tobacco sales to people younger than 21, but many hookah bars have been operating in a grey area—renting customers the ornate water pipes to smoke a sticky, flavored tobacco known as shisha. The new provision would add language for renting and leasing to the prohibition, effectively requiring all hookah customers be at least 21. It would also require hookah lounges to have a city license.

The ordinance would cut in another way, as well.  Many hookah lounges stay open well after last call at the local bars, but the new law would carry a provision requiring they close by 2 a.m.

Casablanca’s owner, Fahad Eltayeb started imposing the restrictions ahead of Monday's meeting.

“We had to tell the customer ahead you know ahead of time instead of waiting for last minute and it’s already started," Eltayeb says. "In fact, we can see the difference in business. I mean, we down now to one employee instead of three—we had to let two people go. We already close at 2 a.m. now.”

Hookah lounge owner Fahad Eltayeb.
Credit Nick Evans
Hookah lounge owner Fahad Eltayeb.

Eltayeb says the changes have already cut his business in half, and he’s had to bring in off-duty police officers on the weekend.

The original version of this story was updated to reflect Monday's council vote.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.
Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.