Smithtown proposes new restrictions on hookah, vape shops

Smithtown proposes new restrictions on hookah, vape shops

Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge in Smithtown is a short distance away from Paul T. Given County Park. Photo from Google Maps

As the popularity of vaping products grows, Smithtown officials are considering ways to keep the products out of children’s hands.

Smithtown Town Board has plans to consider changing town zoning laws to restrict any store whose primary purpose is the sale of any e-liquid, vape product or indoor smoking from opening up within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or public parks in an effort to dissuade teens from using these types of products.

“For this age group, it’s very unhealthy and easily accessible,” said Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), who helped sponsor the ordinance. “They kind of market it like candy, and they name the different flavors after candy names. So It’s very appealing to kids.”

If approved, the restriction would not be retroactive, so it won’t  affect any current  businesses near schools, parks or churches. Inzerillo said she hopes that the zoning change will effectively dissuade these shops from opening near commercial districts.

“Lucky for Smithtown, most of our parks, churches and schools all are close to our main streets,” the councilwoman said.

The town is still waiting on an environmental impact study to be completed by the state on the effect of the proposed ordinance. After that, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town attorney may need to look at any adjustments, but he believes the ordinance will go through.

“I think it’s going to pass, yes,” Wehrheim said. “I believe having [vape and hookah shops] in a close proximity to church or a school is problematic.”

We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use.”

— Matthew Neebe

Matthew Neebe, director at nonprofit Horizons Counseling and Education Center, said that while there have been limited long-term studies on whether or not vape products have negative health effects, he believes these products can harm children’s development.

“We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use,” Neebe said. “I think this step a good place to start. Kids tend to participate in things that are convenient for them.”

Amar Patel, owner of Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge near Paul T. Given County Park in Smithtown, has had his own troubles with the town. His business is temporarily closed while they renovate the building to bring it into compliance with Smithtown fire codes, but he plans to reopen soon. Patel said that vape and hookah get an unfair reputation from the rest of the community.

“I don’t think [the Town of Smithtown] supports any tobacco product, smoking or anything” Patel said. “I mean my personal opinion, I would say when it comes to hookah lounges it’s more of a hang out, where you go after dinner. Almost like you are going to a cigar lounge, then go about your day.”

Patel said he believes that cigarette use should be a bigger concern than hookah lounges or vaping, stressing that he does not believe hookah use is addictive unlike
smoking cigarettes
.

The zoning ordinance is expected to be voted on at the April 26 town board meeting.

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