Ordinance amendment could stop two businesses before they startPublished 11:00pm Friday, May 3, 2013
The May 14 Troy City Council meeting could see a packed house as council members debate whether or not to ban the use of water pipes for smoking tobacco in public places.
Council Johnny Witherington says he will introduce an amendment to the city’s smoking ordinance that would ban the use of water pipes in public places. He said people would still be able to smoke water pipes in their homes or other non-public places.
“The mayor allowed me to ask the city attorney to draw up an amendment to the city’s smoking ordinance that includes banning the use of water pipes,” Witherington said. “It is my hope that this is one of the first things on our agenda and we take immediate action on the amendment.”
City Councilwoman Dejerilyn King Henderson doesn’t share Witherington’s sentiment, particularly since it affects the initiative of young entrepreneurs.
“When you have young men, particularly African-American male entrepreneurs, willing to invest, not only their time, but also their money and energy to improve the City of Troy, then I am supportive,” Henderson said. “I plan on sticking up for them and supporting their efforts. That includes the water pipe smoking.”
At the heart of the matter are two sets of business owners who want to open establishments where patrons could gather to smoke hookah, using water pipes. A hookah pipe is a single- or multi-stemmed instrument used for smoking flavored tobacco called shisha in which the vapor or smoke is passed through a water basin before inhalation. Traditionally, the tobacco is shared by a group of people sitting around the pipe.
Business owners see their ventures as filling an entertainment niche for young professionals in the community. Some community leaders, though, believe the businesses would be a health hazard and it is the city council’s job to protect Troy residents.
Aposha LLC already has applied for a liquor license for a business at 207 Love Street in Troy’s historic downtown area. The city council has twice postponed decision on the license while members further discussed the impact the business would have on the community, and business owner Richard Jones said he delayed a planned soft opening on May 3 while he awaits the city’s response.
Jones, a former Troy University student, and said he remembers how so many students would leave the city each weekend to visit places such as Auburn and Tuscaloosa.
“The downtown area has so much potential,” Jones said. “I wanted to come back to somewhere I had roots. And I thought what better way to bring students downtown and keep them local than with a hookah lounge and cafe.”
Jones said his hope is that his business also will provide an avenue for other downtown businesses to be more successful.
“Generating more business downtown creates business for everybody,” Jones said. “All it is going to do is help everyone grow and generate revenue.”
Although there has been no liquor license application made to the City of Troy, the city council is aware of another businessman making plans for a hookah lounge in Troy. Collegiate Hookah would be located in the Old Campus Deli location on George Wallace Drive.
While the idea of a hookah lounge is new to Troy, larger cities, including Montgomery and Atlanta, have multiple establishments where patrons visit to smoke flavored tobacco.
“My business partner and I have been discussing this since we were in school,” Jones said. “I feel this is the right time. We have a solid business plan. I have been working with the Chamber of Commerce and have met with several local business owners. No one downtown has given me any negative feedback.”
Henderson said she had been a little skeptical of the business at first, but once she saw Jones and his partner “had a plan and were serious entrepreneurs,” she changed her mind.
“I don’t care what anybody else on the council says,” Henderson shared. “They have their opinion and I have mine. Mine is that these young men don’t present the type of character that is going to allow for anything that is illegal or is going to be out of control. They are not going to be running a honkeytonk.”
Henderson said she doesn’t see how the city council has any right to determine how a person can smoke tobacco. She said she doesn’t see a difference between smoking tobacco in a cigarette, in a pipe or in a water pipe.
“To me it is the same thing as going to the bar and smoking cigarettes,” Henderson said.
“I’ve shared statistics in two public meetings, information that is provided by several different health organizations,” Witherington said. “This is a serious public health concern and I feel strongly about it and passionate about it.”
Witherington said he sees nothing wrong with the cafe and bar aspect of Jones’ business and he’d likely approve a liquor license for Aposha if hookah smoking was not a part of the application.
“Allowing this type business activity to operate in Troy, so close to our university and school kids does not serve the public interest and fails to protect our young people who do not often understand the long term impact of poor choices on their health,” Witherington said. “Based on research data I’ve seen, hookah pipes produce 100 times more tar, four times more nicotine and 11 times more hydrocarbons than does a single cigarette,” Witherington said. “I think the university was right in banning it on campus and I think it is the right thing for the city to prohibit this kind of thing.”
Jones said, as of now, he’s moving forward with the project he has in place.
“It’s a new concept,” Jones said. “We know that people have to get a better understanding and see how supportive we are of the area. Anytime where you are the first person to bring something new, there will be a little kickback. I just got caught in the fire because I was the first up.”
Troy’s City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, at City Hall.