Owners of hookah lounges and vape stores may find it more difficult to open in Brookhaven Town.
The town board last week passed a law banning new indoor smoking lounges from sites near homes and public places such as schools and parks. Town officials cited concerns that devices such as hookahs and electronic cigarettes may be harmful and could be linked to illegal drugs.
Brookhaven appears to be the first town in Suffolk or Nassau counties to pass a law restricting hookah and vape lounges. The City of Glen Cove and at least five villages have passed similar laws.
The Islip Town Board has scheduled a May 24 public hearing on a proposed law that would restrict hookah and vape stores.
Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner said she was concerned that some people may use hookahs to smoke illicit substances such as marijuana.
“This legislation came to pass because we saw what’s happening in our neighborhoods,” she said during a public hearing Thursday night at Town Hall. “We don’t feel we can ban it. But we can certainly limit where it goes.”
The law drew support from civic leaders.
“I feel we don’t really know what these dens are about,” said Jeff Kagan, of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, referring to smoking lounges. “Whatever can be done about them, we wholeheartedly support.”
Don Seubert, of the Medford Taxpayer and Civic Association, said the law “is a good start,” adding he hopes the law may be made tougher in the future.
“We have a problem,” he said.
The law requires that smoking lounges must receive a special permit from the town Planning Board. If approved, those lounges may be placed only in certain types of industrial zones, and they must be at least 500 feet from homes and at least 1,000 feet from parks, libraries, schools, playgrounds and houses of worship.
In addition to Glen Cove, laws restricting hookah shops have been enacted in the villages of Port Jefferson, Lindenhurst, Great Neck, Great Neck Plaza and Great Neck Estates. New Hyde Park Village is weighing a similar law.
Advocates for e-cigarettes and other vapor products tout them as a safe alternative to tobacco products. They say laws restricting access to vape shops could make it more difficult for tobacco smokers to quit.
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a Hoboken, New Jersey-based advocacy group, cited studies that he said showed vapor products are “95 percent less hazardous than smoking.”
“It may make sense to set a reasonable restriction around schools,” he said. “Besides that, it’s incredibly irresponsible to take action that would dissuade adults from making the switch” from tobacco products.
Conley rejected claims that vape products are linked to illegal drugs.
“That’s often a tactic taken by dishonest activists to tie these things to drugs,” he said.
In Brookhaven, indoor smoking establishments are prohibited:
Within 500 feet of areas zoned for houses.
Within 1,000 feet of schools
Within 1,000 feet of places of worship
Within 1,000 feet of parks
Within 1,000 feet of playgrounds
Within 1,000 feet of libraries
Within 1,000 feet of hospitals
Within 1,000 feet of instructional programs such as self-defense, dance, swimming, gymnastics and other sports.