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How Are Hookah Bars Still Legal?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Are hookah bars legal?

That's the real question you should be asking, as the law treats hookah smoking and cigarette smoking the same, as they are both tobacco products regulated by the same statutes.

As cigarette smoking decreases, hookah use seems to be rising, particularly amongst the younger generations, possibly contributing to the perception that hookah bars are legal while cigarette smoking is not.

This is actually not the case, as many hookah bars operate illegally.

The reason for this is the state of smoking laws across the country.

Smoking bans operate on a city, county and state level, prohibiting tobacco smoking in workplaces, with minor exceptions.

In jurisdictions with such bans, hookah bars must fit into these exceptions in order to operate legally.

Where laws allow smoking in outdoor patios, restaurants and bars, it's quite possible that hookah bars are legal.

However, where the only major exception is for retail tobacco stores and smokers' lounges, a hookah bar may actually be illegal.

Again, this depends entirely on the jurisdiction.

For example, California requires such lounges and stores to primarily be in the business of selling tobacco and tobacco-related products. Having a license to sell tobacco products is not sufficient, and selling food often disqualifies an establishment.

Illinois is more specific, defining a retail tobacco store as an establishment that earns more than 80% of its revenue from tobacco products.

Now that you know the facts, keep in mind the following:

Hookah bars, legal or not, pose the same risks as establishments where cigarette smoking is permitted.

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