The Glen Cove City Council voted Tuesday to ban “hookah lounges” within city limits after a persistent effort by the Mayor to bring the issue to a vote.
The inspiration for the ban appears to have come from the Mayor’s personal beliefs.
He said in an email to Newsday that although no entrepreneur has decided to risk a huge investment on a marginal consumer base, he would “like to keep it that way”.
Speaking before the vote, resident Jeff Peress argued against the ban, and said that a hookah lounge would “generate revenue and business for Glen Cove, especially downtown”, according to Newsday‘s report. Apparently, the former Green Party candidate’s pro-growth argument fell on deaf ears with the Council, which voted unanimously for the ban.
There’s just so much to bring up about this decision to drop the ban hammer.
The Mayor said that “it sends a nice message that we care about our youth,” even though minors are are already prohibited from entering hookah lounges, just as they are not allowed in bars. Whether he realized it or not, the mayor’s choice of words implies that adults who would visit hookah lounges are, by his definition, “youth” and not capable of deciding for themselves.
This leads into the moral argument against paternalistic policy by government–which holds that willing adults should be free to live as they please as far as they don’t harm or threaten to harm or defraud others. I personally have only been to one of these businesses once, and I did not experience negative health effects. On my visit, an establishment had some sports games on and a bunch of couches–in addition to a regular bar. I may never visit another “hookah lounge” again, and I wouldn’t say that smoking hookah is a net beneficial behavior. But in a free society, consenting adults are free to choose–they can decide if visiting a hookah lounge is good or bad.
The ban on “hookah lounges” raises other questions. First and foremost–what is a “hookah lounge”? The zoning change means that a business whose operations include an establishment where tobacco is inhaled through a hookah pipe would not be permitted in Glen Cove. Does this prevent a bar from having a “hookah night”? What if someone uses a “hookah pen” at a bar? Smoking is just as bad–why not ban public smoking like it is in New York City? One Glen Cove resident picked up on this–”why not ban all bars?” This is far from over–expect more proposed bans to come before the council.
Further, banning “hookah lounges” does not in any way stop private residents from smoking hookah on their private property, even if this is next door to a business establishment. As the city council resolution states, hookah has “been associated with certain illegal and antisocial activities, including underage drinking”. This is much more likely to occur in a private residence, which is not nearly as regulated as even the most unsavory hookah lounge. This leads to unintended consequences–that the very behavior they intend to prevent will instead proliferate. What this ban tells young adults (of-age) is that rather than visit or even start a legitimate business, they should opt for the back rooms and unlit alleys of the black market.
A black market for hookah is unlikely, as the anti-tobacco activists have warned that these lounges are “popping up all over” in places that haven’t banned them. Perhaps Sea Cliff is a municipality that trusts its adults more than Glen Cove does. What will the City Council say if a hookah lounge opens in Sea Cliff, perhaps on the border? What if many Glen Covers frequent this establishment? What if it’s opened by a Glen Cover? Will they apologize for the loss of potential tax revenue, jobs, and the benefit to the city’s economy because they’ve banned this type of business? What do they have to say about the flight of our young people to places that allow adults to participate in activities that our mayor does not agree with?
Glen Covers understand this concern, as evident by reaction from many friends on Facebook. Joe writes this is “exactly why GC isn’t up and coming”. Stuart writes Glen Cove is boring because politicians “drive business away.” “The people that live in Glen Cove that want to do something spend their money outside of Glen Cove to have a good time,” writes Jason. “If they built up Glen Cove around [what people want] they would spend more money in Glen Cove thus making it a more profitable city.” They’re right.
That’s why free markets help people prosper. But sometimes it requires allowing–not endorsing–businesses we might not agree with. It becomes easier when policy is guided what libertarian law professor Richard Epstein calls the “live-and-let-live” principle.
New businesses raise residents’ concerns about externalities–costs imposed on others such as the smell of a restaurant, concerns of eyesore, or the smoke of a neighbor’s barbecue. Live-and-let-live principle guides us to tolerate these minor costs imposed on us, and in return we are compensated with the ability to inflict these same costs on others–such as when we eat at the new pizza parlor, get our nails done, or, even smoke tobacco from a hookah pipe.
It turns out we’re all better off when we’re free to live and let live.
What do you think the City Council will ban next? Tell us in the comments.