Up in smoke: Boston considers ban of tobacco bars

Associated Press | 12/10/2008, 3:57 a.m.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino supports the expanded ban because of a commitment to stopping youth smoking, said spokesman Nick Martin. But Menino is open to compromise with the city’s six cigar bars because they’re neighborhood businesses and attract an older audience than the hookah bars, Martin said.

Swartz said the unexpected rise in license requests for the hookah bars was a major reason the city moved to lift the exemption for smoking bars. Just one hookah bar was licensed when the smoking ban went into effect in 2004, but now five hookah bars have permits.

The bars are popular near college campuses, and offer tobacco in various flavors, including watermelon and chocolate chip. People use a hookah pipe — common in Asia and Africa — to inhale smoke filtered through water.

Swartz said the hookah is a serious health hazard, and its appeal to young people is alarming.

“It’s becoming sort of trendy and you can sit around with a group of people and share and it has sort of a social quality to it,” he said, adding it’s “viewed as though you’re being exposed to other cultures in a way that is fun and exciting.”

Eric Kahn, president of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club of Boston, says people should be allowed to enjoy smoking. His club has met in various spots around the city over the years, including Cigar Masters cigar bar. Members discuss everything from politics to pipe carvers, and relish the taste of the tobacco. They shouldn’t feel like outcasts because the government doesn’t approve, he said.

They’ll smoke elsewhere if Boston bans the smoking bars, but it’s the wrong the thing to do, Kahn said.

“It adds to the image of the pariah. It adds to the image that smokers are evil and doing terrible things to the world,” Kahn said. “They like what they’re doing.”

(Associated Press)