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Waco poised to reverse ban on cigar, hookah smoking lounges

Jun 24, 2024

Doctors, health experts and anti-smoking advocates of all stripes showed up to a Waco City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 to oppose a change allowing new cigar lounges and hookah bars in the city. Despite the opposition, the council unanimously approved the move.

Waco may soon allow new hookah bars and cigar lounges, reversing a ban in place almost eight years and raising concern from the American Cancer Society.

The Waco City Council is poised to finalize an ordinance change Tuesday allowing the opening of new cigar lounges and hookah lounges, which do not sell alcohol, along with new hookah bars, which do sell alcohol. The change, passed Dec. 20 on the first of two required readings, would do away with part of an ordinance passed in 2015 that bans smoking in indoor public places and businesses with a few exceptions.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the change on first reading, with Council Member Jim Holmes absent.

The 2015 ordinance bans smoking in bars, restaurants, other businesses, at public events and in most public spaces, except cigar lounges, hookah lounges and hookah bars that were operating before July 21, 2015, and remain in continuous operation. If the council votes to approve the new ordinance during its meeting Tuesday, most of the 2015 rules will remain in place, but new cigar and hookah lounges and hookah bars would be allowed, with restrictions.

The businesses would have to operate out of standalone buildings or have ventilation systems separate from other businesses in the same building.

The reversal is “very concerning,” said James Gray, government relations director for the American Cancer Society.

Gray said changing the law would expose workers and possibly others to cancer-causing secondhand smoke, regardless of what ventilation system each establishment has in place.

“Waco is certainly moving in the wrong direction on this issue,” he said. “This is not going to protect public health and protect employees from secondhand smoke.”

Gray said about 100 Texas communities have passed smoke-free laws.

Council Member Andrea Barefield suggested changing the ordinance during a council meeting last year.

Keshia Miller, co-owner of Slow Burn Mobile Cigar Lounge, said the bus she operates as a cigar lounge on wheels is available for private events.

“We wanted to have a food truck type of set up, where we could go around to where food trucks are posted up for the evening and we could also be a vendor,” Miller said. “Since you can’t smoke inside of a building in Waco, you’d be outside. That was the initial thought process.”

However, pop-up events and open-air markets are off the table under current city ordinances.

Miller said she hopes to establish a brick and mortar location one day if the ordinance change passes, but she will keep operating the bus.

The ordinance defines cigar lounges and hookah lounges as generating at least half their revenue from the sale of cigars or shisha for on-site consumption. Shisha refers to the type of tobacco, typically sweetened and flavored, that is burned in hookahs. The lounges are not allowed to sell alcohol but are allowed to sell food and nonalcoholic drinks.

The ordinance defines hookah bars as generating at least 60% of revenue from alcohol sales for on-site consumption and at least 30% of revenue from the sale of shisha for on-site consumption. Shisha revenue can include the sale of accessories for smoking shisha but not accessories for smoking other types of tobacco. The ordinance does not refer to cigar bars.

The proposal also would change the minimum age for entering a cigar or hookah lounge from 18 to 21, in line with a 2019 state law that changed the minimum smoking age to 21.

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Doctors, health experts and anti-smoking advocates of all stripes showed up to a Waco City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 to oppose a …

Doctors, health experts and anti-smoking advocates of all stripes showed up to a Waco City Council meeting Tuesday to oppose a change allowing…

“Its amended form will prohibit any particulates from entering into a neighboring space of any kind,” Mayor Dillon Meek said of the ordinance.…

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