The Planning and Development Committee criticized and then passed a bill Monday that would ban smoking in hookah lounges established after July 1 and require the Public Health Department to establish health regulations for already-existing lounges.
The measure passed narrowly despite grumblings from lawmakers about the intent of the measure. Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford, said she felt the measure was a direct attack on a business attempting to open in her district.
That business, constructed adjacent to the Olive Tree in Milford, was built without the proper permit, she said. The owner is currently going through the permitting process but, if the measure passed it would never be allowed to open its doors.
“So we have a business owner that cannot open, we’re trying to eliminate a complete type of business that has been in existence for a thousand of years,” Rose said.
The bill was also criticized as being an infringement of personal liberties.
“I think its someone’s personal right, that if they want to partake in that or go to a cigar lounge or VFW, or an Elks or private club and smoke—as long as they’re not hurting someone else—it’s on them,” she said.
Others had similar concerns. The committee seemed torn between wanting the state to have health oversight of the industry, and allowing the industry to remain intact.
“If there are health risks that cannot be adequately handled, current ones should be closed. If the health risk can be handled, I don’t see why other ones shouldn’t be allowed to open. To me it is completely about how the health issues are handled when this comes out on the floor,” said Rep. William Aman, R-South Windsor.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, agreed that it is appropriate for the state to regulate hookah lounges but said the idea of prohibiting them bothered him as well.
“I think we have to recognize that people get to do what they want to do even if we don’t think it’s appropriate or correct,” he said.
Several legislators said they favored the idea of a strictly regulatory bill and its possible such an amendment can be made on the floor of the Senate.
The bill that Planning and Development passed was, at its inception, a regulatory measure. But substitute language added the prohibition aspect to the measure.