LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Some owners of hookah lounges are trying to figure out how to satisfy their customers and the new city rules regarding the smoking ordinance.

The amendment approved by Metro Council, with a 15-6 vote last Thursday, changes the city’s smoking ban to include e-cigarettes and hookah. So wherever tobacco products are not allowed in public, e-cigs and hookah are also not allowed.

However, there are some exemptions. Customers are allowed to smoke e-cigs or vape inside vape stores. Those stores must derive 85 percent of their business from the sale of e-cigs and vape products. Also, smoking hookah inside a hookah lounge is allowed if it was established before May 1, 2017.

There are some exceptions, specifically for the hookah lounges, that are causing some concern among business owners. The ordinance goes on to state that in order for customers to smoke non-tobacco products through hookah inside the lounge, the business must not allow minors in the building, must not sell alcoholic beverages and must be licensed as a “Food Service Establishment.” 

If a lounge allows any of those three things, then hookah can only be smoked outside the building.

Many of the dozen or so hookah lounges in Louisville sell food options. Some owners are trying to find ways to satisfy the new rules and not lose profit or have to close. A spokesperson with the County Attorney’s Office said if the owner finds a better location with more outdoor or patio seating to accommodate the rules, then the hookah lounge can move and still be “grandfathered in” to the ordinance.

Customers at Café 360, a restaurant and hookah lounge on Bardstown Road, are split on the issue when it comes to having food and hookah inside the same building.

“We usually come here to eat only, not to smoke,” said Arlet Morejon, who was eating lunch Monday at Café 360. “It doesn’t bother me. I mean, I think they keep it pretty clean. And I don’t think it affects the food.”

“If I came to a place, I’d rather not be around smoke," said Eric Blair, who was also eating there Monday. "Just like any other place where there might be cigarette smoke, it should be taken outside.”

Melisa Karajcic was smoking hookah on the front patio while having lunch with her friends from out of town.

“I’ve never experienced that here where like I can’t breathe or something while eating,” Karajcic said. “Hopefully, they can figure something out where they can have it all still together if they like decide to move upstairs or something.”

Once Mayor Greg Fischer signs the ordinance, hookah lounges have 90 days to comply and to register with the Louisville Metro Health Department. A spokesperson with the County Attorney’s Office said Fischer is expected to sign it “soon.”

Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, (R) District 18, worked to find a compromise by rewording the ordinance ahead of it passing the committee. In a statement, she said what passed the full council “represents the bi-partisan work of a number of people” and that it “protects job creators, their employees and the health of the people we represent.”

The Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness supported the addition of e-cigs and hookah to the smoking ban. In a statement to WDRB News, Dr. Sarah Moyer, the Medical Director of the department, said:

“Thanks to the Metro Council and to Mayor Fischer for their leadership in including e-cigarettes and hookah under Louisville’s Smoke Free Ordinance. We are encouraged that the new legislation also protects people younger than age 18 from entering hookah lounges and vape shops and provides greater protections to people living in nursing homes and other facilities. 

This is a big step in the right direction toward cleaner indoor air and in protecting the health of our citizens.  When Louisville’s Smoke Free Ordinance was enacted in 2008, it protected citizens from the health effects of secondhand smoke. This new legislation is a logical extension to also protect us from the toxins emitted by e-cigarettes and hookah products.”

Another change with this ordinance involves the definition of “dwellings” where you cannot smoke. When the ordinance is approved, you cannot smoke any tobacco products, e-cigs or hookah inside a hotel or motel room, nursing home, assisted living or hospice center.

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