By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The City Council is exploring the process of creating a new, more strict ordinance for hookah lounges that also serve food.
If the ordinance is adopted, business owners who want to continue serving food and hookah in the same building will have to get a state exemption and a city approved license.
If they cannot, they can only serve food with a food license.
Last August the council passed a six-month moratorium banning new smoking businesses from opening in the city.
With the moratorium expiring on Feb. 12, the City Council discussed a new ordinance possibility during its Jan. 27 meeting.
Councilors hope creating the ordinance makes it fair for business owners who spent money remodeling their facilities to meet the state guidelines.
In 2010, the state implemented a Dr. Ron Davis Smoke Free Air Law. The law bans smoking in all public places, worksites, bars, restaurants, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, cafes, hookah bars and bowling alleys.
Hookah bar owners were able to apply for an exemption from the state as a tobacco specialty store but without a food license. In 2010, the state gave 265 exemptions with 15 of them awarded to businesses in Dearborn.
Some businesses owners claimed, in order to avoid obtaining a state exemption, that their hookah products were herbal.
Hookah lounges open before the 2010 law was put in place will be protected by the new ordinance, but those opened after will have to follow the new city policy.
Obtaining an exemption is not an easy task for a business owner. They can cost up to $50,000 and the state has set a limit of how many it will distribute.
Councilman Michael Sarenini did some research and found other cities in the state that created ordinances similar to the one Dearborn is exploring.
After looking at the information, councilors decided they want to create an ordinance similar to the other cities and include that a hookah lounge would need to posses a state exemption to operate.
Councilors hope the new ordinance will give the city more enforcement on hookah lounges operating illegally without licenses to state exemptions. City officials estimate that at least five hookah lounges currently open do not have a state exemption.
“By adapting the new ordinance, the city will have more enforcement power, which has been the main issue,” Sarenini said.
The proposed ordinance is still in its early stages and the council still has a lot to discuss which it will do at a meeting President Susan Dabaja said she will schedule.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” she said. “We still have a lot of information to go through and determine what will be included in the ordinance.”
Councilors agreed that the new ordinance will include a strict 18-and-up age limit to also match the state law.
“Many parents have come to me worried about underage consumption of tobacco at the hookah lounges,” Dabaja said.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)