By RENEE BEYDA
The City Council Health Committee is considering proposed legislation that would limit the use of non-tobacco smoking products in restaurants and prohibit sale of shisha and hookah.
Council member Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), chairman of the health committee, outlined the proposal at a Feb. 25 hearing that introduced five related bills. New York City’s Smoke Free Air Act, which prohibits smoking cigarettes and electronic cigarettes in workplaces, restaurants and bars, would include hookah and shisha as well. The legislation would also prohibit the sale of non-tobacco shisha and pipes to young adults, and raise the age of sale of those products from 18 to 21.
Council members said the bills focused mainly on widely held misconception that smoking hookah is not as great a health risk as cigarettes. The commonly smoked pipe of herbs and mostly tobacco is highly popular among adolescents and usually smoked in a group setting with shared mouthpieces.
Forty minutes of smoking hookah is equivalent to smoking about 120 cigarettes, doctors and experts explained at the hearing in City Hall. Common risks include lung cancer, oral cancer, clogged arteries, infertility and heart disease.
Johnson said another misconception was that non-tobacco shisha – a mix of herbs and molasses – was safe. But the chemicals inhaled from the non-tobacco product can also be hazardous, experts say.
“Experts have proven that non-tobacco shisha is at least as dangerous as cigarettes and is found to cause just as much damage to cardiac function,” Johnson said. “. . . And even with non- tobacco, smoking impacts the air quality and health concerns through second-hand smoke.”
Shisha can also be tobacco-based. An investigation conducted by the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2015 showed that 13 out of 14 hookah establishments in New York City were illegally selling and serving tobacco-filled shisha, a non tobacco herb commonly smoked in hookah pipes.
“Smoke from both tobacco and non tobacco preparations contain nearly equal amount of toxicants known to contribute to the risk of tobacco caused cancer, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Almost 40 percent of college students say they have smoked hookah or shisha, studies show, and a reported 17 percent of high school seniors say they have smoked it within the past year.
“The point is we’re not discussing business models, we’re discussing regulating kids going to hookah bars,” Dr. Ramsey Joudeh of NYU Lutheran told the committee. “It’s more about regulating who goes to those areas.” Joudeh also voiced his support for raising to 21 the age to buy hookah and its products.
The committee members mostly had a positive reaction to the proposals, with the exception of Council member Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), who opposed the bills. He said they would hurt small businesses, ultimately shutting them down.
Johnson said that under the new bill, businesses that earn over 50 percent or more of their sales from on-site sale or rental of tobacco smoking products would be able to continue to sell their products as long as they register and comply with the Health Department.
“It’s time to clear the smoke about hookah smoking and deal with the health risks it presents to an unsuspecting public, especially to our youngsters,” Council member Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) said. “And I look forward to us breathing easier very very soon.”
The Council committee has yet to take a vote on the bills.
Photo: Council member Corey Johnson introduced legislation to regulate shisha and hookah smoking. (NYC.gov)