State legislation barring minors from hookah smoking or buying hookah-related products went into effect on Jan. 1, after Gov. Cuomo signed the bill into law last July.
The legislation regulates a product and business trade that until now has gone largely unregulated.
Hookahs are waterpipes traditionally used in Middle Eastern countries for smoking “shisha,” a fruity, herbal substance that can contain tobacco. Hookah bars and shops selling hookah products are prevalent throughout New York and Queens.
Regulating hookah smoking became a hot-button issue in recent years after the practice experienced a surge in popularity, especially among young people.
Many believe smoking shisha is less harmful than tobacco, or that smoking tobacco through a waterpipe is better for you than smoking cigarettes. But a 2005 study from the World Health Organization found that hookah smoking carries the same health risks as cigarette smoking.
Hookah smoking is popular in many neighborhoods, including Astoria. Hookah lounges and shops line Steinway Street, from 25th to 28th avenues.
One shop owner said the law wouldn’t stop him from selling pipes, although a few hookah bars prominently displayed signs banning anyone under 18 from entering.
A hookah bar owner who spoke under condition of anonymity said he’s uncomfortable with the new law. It would be hard to enforce, he said, and he doesn’t see the problem with hookah smoking.
“I smoke hookah every day, and I would never sell anything to anyone that I wouldn’t trust myself,” he said, adding that most of the shisha he sells is advertised as not containing tobacco.
But anti-smoking advocates insist that even shisha containing no tobacco would still be harmful.
“People do say there’s no tobacco in it,” said Sheelah Feinberg, the director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City. Regardless, she added, “there’s so many chemicals that go into it, that [it] harms your lung system.”
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), supports the new law. Jonathan Chung, a spokesman for Vallone, said that “because [shisha] might affect younger people differently, it’s better and safe to ban it from minors until more research is done on the product.”
A number of regular hookah patrons told the Chronicle they felt the ban makes sense.
“Too many kids are smoking hookah these days. They’re not mature enough to do that,” said one patron. “They inhale it like a cigarette, which you’re not supposed to do, and they hurt themselves.”
Another hookah customer said that he supported the ban because he often saw teenagers in hookah bars during school hours. “This isn’t the kind of place where kids should be hanging out,” he said.