including public lounges, restaurants and private clubs. Hookah bars are no exception, though they can apply for an exemption.
According to the state of Michigan, a hookah bar may submit an application for a specialty license to qualify as a tobacco specialty retail store, and thus become exempt from the ban. However, such hookah bars may not have either a food service license or a liquor license. This means hookah bars that currently serve food or alcohol must now decide whether they want to be in the restaurant or tobacco business.
For hookah bar owners like Nizar Elawar, the smoking ban has huge implications.
“It’s definitely going to affect my business,” says Elawar, who owns the Rendez Vous Caf in Ann Arbor. Aside from its reputation as the city’s first hookah lounge, Rendez Vous Caf is also known for its signature sandwiches, fresh smoothies and delicious crepes.
“We have a two-story building,” Elawar says. “On the first floor we serve food and drinks, and (we) reserve the second floor for smoking indoors and outside on the terrace. A lot of our customers are students who go up there to study and relax.”
Elawar says many hookah bars are heavily reliant on the traffic that flavored tobacco attracts. With the smoking ban approaching, some owners are in the process of giving their establishments a makeover to eliminate the restaurant feel. Elawar is making preparations if things don’t work out, yet hopes his business will be approved for an exemption.
“We applied for the license,” Elawar says, “now we’re just waiting for a response.”All businesses applying for a specialty license are required to file the initial application on or before June 1, and they must meet certain criteria in order to be granted an exemption. Owners must prove that their place of business is not physically connected to any adjacent establishment where smoking is prohibited, and show that 75-percent of their gross annual income is generated from either tobacco or smoking paraphernalia products. In addition, minors cannot be allowed in the businesses applying for tobacco specialty retail store status.
Some Michigan residents are applauding the ban, but this law has local opinions divided. Shekiera Wright, a former MSU student and casual hookah smoker, feels the ban on smoking is not fair.
“It just doesn’t make any sense to impose a ban that’s going to do nothing but hurt local businesses,” Wright says. “In my opinion, solving the smoking problem is simple if you don’t like to be around the smoke that accumulates in bars and bowling alleys, don’t go.”
Kenneth Lee of Detroit is one of the locals who stand on the other side of the fence. A former smoker himself, Lee is in full support of the ban.”I smoked for nearly 15 years, and quitting was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life,” says Lee. “It was a terrible habit I wished I never picked up.”
Lee is looking forward to having the luxury to mingle in smoke-free environments.
“I like to go out and have fun,” he says, “but I do it less often because I don’t like to be around all that smoke. People will still have the right to smoke in their cars and homes, which is where they should do it because it’s not affecting anyone else. I feel the ban is a good thing, and honestly, I don’t see what all the complaining is about.”