Manning the counter at Herb N’Legends, a north Phoenix smoke shop, Bob Wools said minors come in at least every other day trying to buy hookah pipes. And even though there’s no law against selling them to those under 18, his shop won’t, he said.
“It’s an unhealthy product,” Wools said. “Some kids are just too young to really know what they’re getting into.”
Saying that an hour of using a hookah pipe is equivalent to smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes, state Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, has introduced a bill that would make it a petty offense to sell the pipes to minors. It also would make it a petty offense for minors to possess them.
Hookah pipes, which originated in south Asia, draw the smoke of flavored tobacco through water. Often rented in hookah lounges, bars or cafes to create a social experience, the pipes have long hoses connected to mouthpieces that smokers share.
After a constituent raised concerns, Yee said she confirmed that teenagers frequent hookah establishments in her area.
“I believe this is a significant public health concern that we need to look at,” Yee said. “We need to establish these standards for our teenage population and send a clear message that hookah smoking is not a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.”
HB 2034 would amend the state’s law against against selling tobacco products or cigarette papers to minors to include any instrument used for smoking or ingesting tobacco, including a hookah or water pipe. Violators would be subject to fines of up to $300.
In addition, a minor in possession of smoking paraphernalia would be subject to a fine of at least $100 or required to complete at least 30 hours of community service.
Christian Stumpf, regional director of government relations for the American Lung Association of the Southwest, said studies show that using hookah pipes is as unhealthy as cigarette smoking.
“I think it’s fair to say that these hookah shops are popping up more than they used to, and the American Lung Association sees this as a growing health concern, especially in the youth,” he said.
The House Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill last week on a 7-2 vote. Reps. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, and Jack W. Harper, R-Surprise, voted against.
Vogt, an Air Force veteran who served in the Middle East, said he was concerned about the potential for penalizing someone who gives or receives a hookah pipe as a gift representing another culture.
“The pipe is not the problem; the tobacco is the problem,” he said.
Harper said the state should target the act of smoking rather than the devices used.
However, Yee said the state needs to act, citing research suggesting that teens who use hookah pipes are eight times more likely to try cigarettes.
“Hookah use is rising,” she said. “It is a concern.”
Stores and others may not sell or provide the following to minors:
• cigarette papers
• smoking or chewing tobacco