Editorial: Smoking exception for hookah pipes is reasonable but needs to be watched

My how times change. Not all that many years ago, smoking indoors was just the way it was. Bars, restaurants, government buildings, places of work, malls, shopping centers, even teachers' lounges in schools and hospital lobbies were all equipped with well-used ash trays.

Today's high school seniors may find it hard to believe, but smoking was more common 20 years ago than body piercing and tattoos are these days.

In the smoky indoor atmosphere of the 1980s and earlier, a business operator wanting to operate a specialized tobacco smoking apparatus would simply have had to lease the space and install the equipment. Flash forward to the present and a proposal before the Town of Bel Air that would bring a hookah lounge to the county seat.

For those whose only knowledge of hookahs comes from the caterpillar that encouraged Alice to eat from one side of the toadstool to grow larger and the other side to get smaller, a pinch of background is in order. Lounges featuring hookah pipes have cropped up in trendy neighborhoods in big cities and there are those who believe hookah bars will be in the future what coffee bars have become over the past 15 or so years.

Maybe it's because tobacco has become so uncommon compared to what it used to be, or maybe it's just another opportunity for indulging in a little vice while socializing, but there appears to be enough of an attraction that a business is proposed that would be based on indoor smoking.

To make it work, the town government is considering a modification of its code, which is a reasonable thing to do.

Still, the general restrictions on indoor smoking need to be kept firmly in place. It's one thing to have a place specifically for smokers to go and enjoy an exotic way of imbibing tobacco smoke. What would be entirely unreasonable would be a situation that would allow any bar or restaurant to install a hookah pipe as a back door to bringing cigarettes back into public places.

It must be remembered that while tobacco smoking is associated with many long standing traditions, its use in public places jeopardizes not only the health of the user, but also that of the people who happen to be in close proximity.

There would be nothing wrong with adding a hookah lounge to Bel Air's amenities; there would be a problem, however, with using such a rules change to bring cigarettes back indoors in public buildings. On the off chance that some smoke might escape a hookah lounge, it wouldn't be any more harmful to passersby than the clusters of folks smoking regularly just outside the entrances to malls, shops, restaurants, etc.

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