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Asking whether hookah bars are illegal may seem like a silly question given the massive proliferation of such establishments in the last decade.
However, you might be surprised to know that many hookah bars are, in fact, operating illegally under state, county, and/or city laws.
With smoking laws varying between jurisdictions and local governments strapped for cash, the "legality" of hookah bars is a complicated question that ultimately depends on enforcement.
To begin, as a tobacco-based smoke, hookah is regulated by laws that govern smoking in both the workplace and public businesses.
Generally prohibiting smoking, these laws may exempt bars and restaurants; retail tobacco stores and smoking lounges; private clubs and outdoor patios.
Again, the specifics depend completely on the state and/or locality.
For instance, Alabama has no statewide smoking ban, but a number of cities have implemented their own ban. Some allow smoking in restaurants and bars while others do not.
And while Connecticut defines cigar bars by the portion of their income coming from tobacco products, California requires a retail tobacco store or smokers' lounge to be almost completely in the tobacco-selling business.
Even the sale of food can ultimately make a hookah bar illegal under California law.
The reason so many hookah lounges are allowed to remain despite flouting the law is because the number of administrative hearings required prior to shuttering a business costs the government significant amount of time and money.
But keep in mind that a lack of enforcement doesn't ultimately change whether hookah bars are illegal. So look carefully at local law before you decide to hop on the hookah bandwagon.