Long Beach officials debate over smoking lounge regulations

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In order to find an efficient strategy to permit currently-opened smoking lounges to keep operating in Long Beach, but prevent new venues from opening their doors to local visitors. However, it appears to be that it is more simply said than done for the Long Beach legislators.

Long Beach Finance Committee comprising three members introduced a first draft of new ordinance for smoking bars, which the City Council voted to approve back in February. That decision was landmark for the city, which had been one of the first U.S. localities to implement ban on smoking in public places.

Winston smoking lounge

The members of the Committee voted 2-1, to pass the regulation for a final vote in the full council, although they adopted several modifications to the initial bill, concerning the strategies to prevent new places from opening. Committeewoman Rae Gabelich was the lone opponent of the regulation.

According to the members of the council, they do not have any legal grounds to limit the number of hookah and cigar lounges; however, they could do it by launching zoning restrictions.

Yet, several people said that restricting the number of such lounges would be regarded as discrimination, so it has been impossible to implement such regulation.

But Councilwoman Gabelich responded that the banning such lounges altogether is the alternative to the restriction of their number. This proposal was supported by local anti-smoking organizations.

There are four hookah bars, eight cigar clubs and 27 smoke shops across Long Beach, in conformity with the reports. Committee members have been concerned that permitting smoking venues to operate in the city would give smoke shops the loophole to legally permit smoking if they would apply for a license to be considered a smoking lounge as well.

Council member Gary DeLong recommended adopting the bill which would cover applying and certification procedures, inspections, air conditioning and ventilation rules. In addition, according to the recommended regulations, the adolescents aged less than 18 are prohibited to enter the lounges and sales of food and drinks are banned.

But, the bill also contained several amendments, among which was providing the business licensing office with the authority to give licenses, in contrast to current licenses given by Health Department; separate ventilation requirement, and other provisions.

The councilman also introduced a provision to allow food and beverage sales in those venues, if it has been possible, however, city attorney responded that it would violate the state laws, since if permitting smoking lounges to serve food and dinner they should be considered common restaurants.

Other members of the council proposed to extend moratorium on giving new licenses for opening smoking lounges and closing the existing lounges, but such initiatives were rejected.

Local health advocates said they are highly against any regulation permitting smoking lounges, as they damage public health, but in the current difficult economic times it is more important for local authorities to save businesses and provide more workplaces.

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