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Council Discusses Hookah Lounge Regulations

December 3, 2012, 6:17 PM by Derek Olson

Council Discusses Hookah Lounge Regulations

This June, Rapid City's City Council rejected the renewal of a malt beverage license for Ifrit's Hookah Lounge. And on Monday night, the city council will discuss a proposed ordinance further regulating hookah businesses. 

Ifrit's Hookah Lounge opened its doors in late 2009 and is one of two businesses in Rapid City where customers smoke from special water pipes.  An ordinance on Monday’s city council agenda would single out and regulate the businesses.

"The ordinance itself doesn't deal with other establishments that permit smoking on premises as provided for by state law.  It targets the hookah establishments," Ifrit's attorney Stephen Wesolick said.

The ordinance would require hookah lounges to meet ventilation standards and post signs warning about the health risks associated with smoking hookah, which are not as widely recognized as other tobacco products.

"For that reason, I think it makes sense for us to distinguish between smoke shops and cigar shops and hookah lounges," Rapid City Assistant City Attorney Carla Cushman said.

Wesolick says that his clients don't have a problem with those regulations.  But the ordinance also requires hookah lounges to be licensed by the city, which something the attorney doesn't foresee happening.

"I anticipate they will deny their application for that when the time comes.  So, this is clearly in our view an effort to target my client and to shut them down, which is what their stated objective has been from the beginning," Wesolick said.

Both Rapid City's mayor and police chief have been outspoken critics of the hookah lounges.

Still, the City Attorney's office remains adamant that this is purely about protecting the public's health.

"I think this ordinance comes from a place where there's concerns about hookah smoking and the dangers of hooking smoking," Cushman said.

Wesolick said that the city has made no effort to address its concerns with his client directly.
He anticipates the ordinance will ultimately pass. However, it is likely the case could end up in court.

The city council will also consider Ifrit's wine license on Monday.

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