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After Hookah, Council Likely to Ban More Things

By   /  July 26, 2014  /  2 Comments

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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.

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Glen Cove City Hall

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.

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About the author

Founder, Executive Editor

Before founding the Beacon, Mike worked at AOL Patch, Anton News, and most recently at Reason Magazine.

2 Comments

  1. Dave Nieri says:

    Good points, Mike. In recent years the City administrations have been trying to promote themselves as ‘health conscious’, thereby becoming a Nanny State, following the lead of the greatest Nanny State of all – New York State. This is evident by the praise heaped on the Mayor and City Council by the anti-tobacco groups every time a ban is passed on something related to smoking, such as hookah bars, e-cigarettes, and prohibitions on smoking in parks and other public places. This “we know what’s best for our residents” attitude is stifling both business and the pursuit of happiness.

    In keeping with your premise that willing adults should be free to use legal products (such as cigarettes and alcohol), adults should have the option of visiting cigar bars, smoking lounges and hookah lounges – places that a Nanny State will prohibit within their boundaries. If the argument is that such places of business are unhealthy and/or promote other illegal or undesirable activities, then both liquor bars and fast food restaurants should be banned as well.

    I have to go offshore in my boat to enjoy a cigar – that hasn’t been prohibited….yet. Glen Cove may be becoming a healthy place, but for enjoyment, you’ll have to visit our neighbors.

  2. Bob Panzenbeck says:

    I love the Mayor but he’s completely in the wrong here, mostly for the reasons you outlined. Moreover, a city in the economic shape Glen Cove is in has no business banning any sort of legitimate business. I too get the sense that he’s legislating his personal preferences, a la Michael Bloomberg. The limited ban on e-cigarette advertising was also silly. The only people who actually believe e-cigarettes encourage kids to smoke are those duped by tobacco companies who see a viable threat to their customer base.

    But back to hookahs, and businesses in general. Let’s not forget, Glen Cove is a backwater. No one is passing through Glen Cove on their way to anywhere. It’s 20 minutes from the nearest highway. By a quick Google search, I can see that there are no hookah bars between Queens and Huntington Station. It’s possible that building one in Glen Cove would actually attract people to our downtown, who might then discover other reasons to stay.

    The council and the Mayor ran on the idea that Glen Cove was now “open for business,” and strides have been made, to be sure. But legislation like this discourages legitimate businesses who might think that their ability to provide a legal, legitimate service might be up for government review. That’s bad for the sort of bottom up development our city needs. We need a less restrictive approach that encourages investment, even if it challenges the mayor’s preferences.

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