Pasadena Restaurant Owners, Customers Protest Hookah Smoking Ban Enforcement

Not allowing hookah smoking, but allowing cannabis sales, is “discriminatory,” say business owners and residents

Published : Thursday, July 25, 2019 | 4:41 AM

Following an uptick in the enforcement of the Citys’ anti-smoking ordinance, a number of restaurateurs who offer Hookah pipes to their customers spoke out in protest at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The complaints come as newly City-licensed cannabis shop owners have begun to select their retail locations and prepare to open for business.

‘We want to bring a great cultural experience to our restaurant, and part of this is the hookah,” said Tanya Moriarty, of  Eden Garden restaurant, located just a block west of City Hall.

Moriarty said the restaurant offers “Nicotine free, tobacco-free hookahs with fruit and molasses, so we can still enjoy the cultural aspect of it.”

According to Moriarty, a “couple thousand” customers have signed a petition to have hookah smoking exempted from the City’s municipal ordinances.

“It’s becoming very personal,” Moriarty added. “If you take this away, you will put us out of business.”

In an effort to clarify Moriarty’s concerns, Tornek asked City Manager Steve Mermell about the various formulas used in hookah pipes, but Mermell said the City’s ordinance does not permit any type of smoking in restaurants, including hookah.

“Under our ordinance, it’s not permitted. It’s never been permitted,” he said.

“So, it’s not about what the formula or what the combustible is, it’s about the smoke,” the Mayor clarified.

‘Correct,” said Mermell.

Councilmember Steve Madison then asked City Attorney Michele Bagneris whether a Conditional Use Permit could be granted to restaurants for hookah use.

“No,” said Bagneris, adding, “The Health Department is very persistent in trying to enforce it.”

Eden Garden owner Tarek Jamal told the Council that his restaurant serves Fortune 500 clients, as well as Caltech, JPL, and UCLA and USC Keck employees, but added that he felt that not allowing hookah was “unfair and discriminatory.”

“We have always felt an honor and a duty to protect Pasadena, the City that we love,” said Jamal, But he added,  “However, now we feel that we need to protect ourselves and our culture and our rights from the City.”

Jamal also implied that the ban on hookah was discriminatory, as hookah lounges attract a largely Middle Eastern and Armenian clientele.

“We contribute to the city just like any other business,” added Jamal, “but this ban is not only discriminatory and prejudiced, but also unjust and unfair. It is unfair when other cultures are allowed to be served cannabis and alcohol products, which are by far, more harmful than hookah smoking.”

Jamal also claimed that allowing cigar lounges in the city, as well as allowing smoking at Brookside Golf Course was unjust and that the “campaign against us is a violation of our civil rights.”

Pasadena restaurant owner Sarkis Terzian, who told the Council that his original business permit allowed hookah smoking,  also claimed that his business was visited by Pasadena Police officers “in shorts and flip-flops, and vests with guns” last week. “They come in like we’re terrorists.”

In an email Wednesday to Pasadena Now, City Manager Mermell wrote, “My understanding is that the people who spoke Monday night/Tuesday morning were from restaurants that wish to offer Hookah to their customers.  Our Tobacco Use Prevention Ordinance does not permit Hookah. (See anti-smoking ordinance here.)

Mermell added, “This has been the rule for a long time, however, enforcement efforts have not always been consistent.  I suspect the public comment was related to increased enforcement as of late.”

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