Rodriguez Urges Curbs on Hookah Sales

[The following story was published in Manhattan Times on Feb. 6. For more photos, click hereLeer en español.]

They’re thinking of the children.

New legislation aims to prevent bodegas from openly displaying hookahs, cigarettes and other tobacco products on shelves and in store windows that would be in full view of younger residents.

Council member Ydanis Rodríguez, center, announcing the bill. To his immediate left is state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, and to her left is Assembly member Carmen de la Rosa. (Photo by Gregg McQueen via Manhattan Times)

The bill, known as Intro 1462, would require all non-smoke shops selling tobacco and other smoking products to keep them out of sight under the counter until the point of sale.

Council member Ydanis Rodríguez, who announced the legislation outside of Inwood public school I.S. 52 on Feb. 4, said the bill he’s introduced in the City Council is designed to reduce smoking among young people.

“Nearly 90 percent of regular smokers start smoking before they’re out of high school,” remarked Rodríguez, noting that young smokers have indicated in research studies that store displays were an enticing factor in their decision to smoke.

Rodríguez and other uptown lawmakers noted the prevalence of hookah smoking in Northern Manhattan, and said that resident complaints regarding the practice in restaurants and bars is on the rise.

The hookah is a long-stemmed smoking instrument through which flavored tobacco is vaporized; the smoke and vapor pass through a water basin and are then inhaled. It is often shared among a group of users, lending to its popularity as a social practice.

“Anybody who knows Washington Heights or Inwood knows we have been invaded by an epidemic of hookah, not only in public places such as bodegas, but also every restaurant in the community,” said state Sen. Marisol Alcantara. “It’s not very uncommon to walk around here in the summer and see parents smoking hookah with their kids on the sidewalk or in the lobby of their building.”

“It is unacceptable to see our youth on these streets smoking hookah at 15, 16 years old,” Rodríguez stated. “We have to stop this and it has to happen now.”

If passed, Intro 1462 would slap shop owners who fail to comply with a $1,000 fine for a first offense. Fines would increase to $2,000 for a second offense and $5,000 for a third offense.

The bill would not affect retail tobacco stores, where patrons must be 21 to enter.

A study by the National Cancer Institute and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products found that keeping smoking products out of sight in stores reduces the susceptibility of minors to consider smoking later in life.

“A lot of kids think that smoking hookah is healthier or better than smoking cigarettes, but it’s not,” said Dr. Awilda Torres of Inwood Community Services, an organization that assists locals with mental health and substance abuse issues.

She cited research detailing that 45 minutes of smoking hookah equates with smoking as many as 100 cigarettes.

Torres’ co-worker Tomas Trinidad, called on bodega owners to collaborate with community groups to provide a better message for children.

“We need to work as a team,” he said.

Similar legislation curtailing store displays of tobacco products has been passed in other countries including Ireland, Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom, Rodríguez said.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a tobacco display ban for New York City in 2013, but the legislation stalled at the time.

“I know there’s a big push in our city to ban hookah completely,” remarked State Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa, who added that young people are drawn to hookah smoking through various flavors and colorful displays. “I think that this legislation gets to the heart of what we want to address, which is our children being influenced by the advertisements of hookah.”

De La Rosa said the law is not intended to hurt small businesses, but added, “We’re here to say that a profit does not have more authority than the health of our children, the health of our community.”

Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the United States, said he is supportive of the legislation to regulate how tobacco products are marketed.

“It is the responsibility of all adults to do whatever it takes to protect our children,” Murphy said.

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