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Hookah Hocum: Rapid City Lounge Owners Challenge Smoking Ban

Give Ifrits Hookah Lounge in Rapid City points for legal creativity. As Police chief Steve Allender prepares to enforce the state's smoking ban on the establishment, the lounge's lawyer says its hookah smokers aren't really smoking:

Hookah smoking, which originated in India and the Middle East, involves using water pipes with burning charcoal to ingest tobacco. Ifrit's attorney, Stephen Wesolick, said he will take the matter to court for a judgment on whether it constitutes smoking under the state statute.

Wesolick said the position of Ifrit's is that the tobacco product in a hookah pipe is not ignited to produce smoke, but is heated and dehydrated to produce a vapor.

"It's not the same as smoking a cigarette or a pipe," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "It's our position that it's not a smoke that results from combustion" ["Smoking Ban to Be Enforced at SD Hookah Lounge," AP via Black Hills Pioneer, 2012.04.17].

Right. South Dakota's smoking statutes do not appear to define smoking, so the court will have to default to common usage. A quick perusal of hookah language finds the practice referred to almost universally as "smoking." Hookah smoking still poses the same hazards to users and secondhand ingestors (not to mention the added risk of spreading colds, flu, and oral herpes) that undergirded the legislative intent of South Dakota's smoking ban. A retail tobacco shop can host smokers, but it can't sell alcohol, and Ifrits sells alcohol.

Open and shut: if Ifrits wants to keep the hookahs, it'll have to ditch the hooch.


  1. Bill Dithmer 2012.04.18

    Yesterday I sent this to the Hookah Lounge through their FB page.

    I have a suggestion for you that might give your operation a new lease on life. As I understand the law you cant have both the beer and the hookah in the same building because of the ban on smoking in a public place.

    Why not just change your operation to a vape bar? If you can smoke something you can sure as hell vape it. Better taste, smells great while you are smoking, and there is no smell in the air or on your breath after you are through smoking. A good quality vaporizer would set you back three of four hundred dollars and the city or the state could no longer bitch about smoking and drinking again. Just a hint of what you can do. Try vapeing ground coffee once and it will become a regular item.

    The Blindman

    Here is their response.

    Ifrit's Hookah Lounge Mr. Dithmer, we appreciate the suggestion. We are not really at liberty to go into details regarding the upcoming civil matters but the process by which a hookah is enjoyed differs greatly from that of a cigarette or cigar, and a hookah shares many similarities to a vaporizer believe it or not. We believe that the facts of the matter will come to light during civil proceedings as the verbage of our states smoking ban does not directly address the process by which a hookah functions. But my interest is definately peaked on vapeing some ground coffee!

    While Im sure that the Hookah Lounge believes that what they are saying is correct it will be an uphill battle defending the use of a hookah as being "without smoke." Hookahs are notorious for their wide ranging material consumption temperatures. From the first pull, ah, hit, ah, well lets call it a draw, to the time when the user stops the temperature at the bowl gets hotter and hotter. That change isn't felt by the user because that heated smoke is drawn through water and cooled down.

    That's not to say a hookah when used properly isn't an enjoyable device. When used in the right way it is like a vaporizer and just releases the goodies from the oils in the material that is being tried. The problem arises when users draw to hard for to long and the temperature goes slightly above the point when just vapor happens. At that time even if there are no visible changes in the product being smoked, ashes, and glowing coals, it is in fact giving off particulates in the air.

    Those particulates are what are causing the smell. If it was just vapor it would disperse in seconds. If it was vapor it would have very little smell on a persons breath. As I'm reading the RCJ it looks like the smell is causing problems for the lounges neighbors. That doesn't look like a good outcome for the lounge does it?

    For true vaporization you need a vaporizer. That would be a machine that controls the temperature of the heat going through the material. These things are being used with great success for those that use medical marijuana " in places where that is legal" for that very reason. No particulate matter means no damage to lungs.

    The temperature is the key. I'm not sure how tobacco reacts to heat except that it releases the oils from the material in the same way as pot does. Let me say right now that everything that you smoke has a different combustion rate. I do know that tobacco has a much lower combustion rate then does pot but I cant give the exact temperature.

    There has been a lot of research in the use of vaporizers in the last couple of years. We now know that there are at least 66 known cannabinoids in marijuana and maybe as many as 80. Each one of these cannabinoids releases their oil at a different temperature. Research is showing that the temperature at which marijuana is vaped is almost as important as the strain of pot that is being vaped.

    For instance, we know that the cannabinoids that effect glaucoma vaporize at a much lower temperature then do those that help ease pain. Those that help with the most severe pain are almost to the point of combustion when they release from their oil. Its not rocket science but it is very interesting.

    A hookah and a vaporizer are alike in that they are drug delivery systems, but that is where their similarities end. I have had a bunch of experience with both in the last thirty years and I can tell you that a hookah no matter how hard you try is going to produce a little smoke. Where there is smoke there is smell.

    On the other hand if you are using a vaporizer with a constant temperature control all you will get is vapor, nothing more. No particulate mater equals no smell. It doesn't matter what you are vaping as long as you don't turn the darn thing up to much the material wont burn. There will be no ash, no coals, and the only visible difference in the material will be a change in the color. For all practical purposes you could use a vaporizer in a living room full of people and if they didn't see you they wouldn't even know that you are using one.

    I haven't used pot on a regular basis for over four years because of our laws. But when I decide to smoke it will never be actual smoke again, it will be vapor. And yes tobacco is great in a vaporizer, the taste is what tobacco used to taste like fifty years ago before they started putting all the chemicals in it. And coffee, well imagine the best coffee smell you have ever smelled, that's what it taste like.

    I bet it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall of the state attorneys office the day they did the test.

    Glenn Brenner, "Chief Allender why don't you do the hookah and Ill smoke the cigar and then well blow into the tester and look at the readings. Then to make sure we have done a complete test we will turn it around and Ill smoke the hookah and you can have the cigar."

    "What's that Steve? Hay somebody go get Kevin Thom, we need him to show us how to run the hookah."

    I sure wish I could draw a cartoon of that meeting.

    The Blindman

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.19

    Thank you, Bill! You still get the taste from the vaporizer; do you get the same buzz? And with no particulate matter to damage the lungs, do you completely eliminate the carcinogenic effects, or just reduce them?

  3. Cj 2012.04.21

    That was my response blindman. Yes it will be an uphill battle for sure hehe. Even if the byproduct is smoke, its from the glucose and not the tobacco. A properly tended bowl shouldnt burn at all. Shisha, the tobacco used un hookah, had half its weight in liquid. You can hold a lighter to it and it will not ignite. Try rolling it up in a paper and smoking it-totally will not work.

    We spent a lot of time testing differe nt coals to find the cleanest. Our coals are made of compressed coconut husks. Fire dept took and tested some and found them to be safe for indoor use. We also have excellent ventilation system. Im guessing the lounged with odor complaints were using something else for coals and that was causing the odor.

    The vapor inhaled does dissapate within seconds. I encourage you to come check it out. We will also be making an instructional video on how to properly use a hookah since kota has said put the coals inside the foil which is totally incorrect.

    When a bowl is finished the tobacco becomes a hardened, dried out clump. If it was burned it would be ash which is not the case.

    There is a product called steam stones which is basically shisha with small pebbles unstead if tobacco. It works exactly the same in a hookah but contains no nicotine. Im no scientist but im pretty sure those rocks aren't burning!

    The world health organization study has come under much scrutiny for using flawed methods. Its unfortunate that this single study has become the holy grail for throwing hookah in with other burned tobacco products. Im certainly not saying its healthy, but i dont think its right to compare it to cigarette smoke. It is a much better delivery system for nicotine, but nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant and is not the cancer causing culprit in and of itself.

    Thanks for letting me ramble a bit!

  4. grudznick 2012.04.21

    I say let them keep their beer, and open it up to stogies and let old men enjoy a good briar pipe, too.

  5. Carter 2012.04.21

    Cory, my understanding of vaporizers is that it merely reduces the carcinogenic effect. It falls somewhere between normal smoking with inhaling and smoking without inhaling, lung-wise.

    I happen to agree with Grudz. Smoking may not be defined legally, but I much prefer the definition of smoking as "producing smoke" rather than "consuming tobacco". My understanding of the smoking laws is that they generally pertain to "lighted tobacco" (I could be wrong). If chewing tobacco is allowed, I think hookahs should be.

    As for being allowed to smoke pipes, I would probably disagree, but damn, pipes are a classy.

  6. cj 2012.04.24

    Also I disagree with the idea that this is "open and shut." Not much choice until the injunction to comply with Mr. Brenner's interpretation of the law until it can be decided in circuit court, but we definately wouldn't have taken it that far if there was not a very good chance of having a ruling in our favor.

  7. cj 2012.04.24

    there was a special exemption for cigar bars so you can do just that! however this was only for cigar bars allready in existance on 1/1/09. They are allowed to expand or move as well. We were the only hookah lounge in the state at that time...boy it would be nice to get grandfathered back and receive a state sanctioned monopoly!

    also they only need to have 10% tobacco sales and maintain a humidor...

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.24

    Well, cj, you won't win that point in court. You'll have to lobby your legislators (or do you have some primary candidates?) and get them to write in some hookah exemptions in the 2013 Legislature.

  9. cj 2012.04.26

    We'll see about the court to make it interesting? Say $100 wager?

    Petitioning would be the next step following circuit court ruling.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.26

    Sorry, cj, I'm not Mitt Romney [spoonerism note: in my head, I just thought, "Ritt Momney"]. I have neither the desire nor the petty cash to bet on public policy. Besides, I think court decisions are interesting enough without bets.

    Petitioning... for what? An initiated measure on the 2014 ballot to exempt hookah lounges from the smoking ban? That's the soonest you could do something with petitions. How about snagging some of those legislative candidates and getting them to stump for such legislation in 2013?

  11. Carter 2012.07.05

    Have you considered having us start accounts to post here, Cory?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.07.05

    I have, but I don't like that extra log-in step on other sites. What advantages do you see?

  13. Carter 2012.07.05

    I was just thinking it might avoid (for a while at least) the recent infestation of spambots you seem to be having.

    Unfortunately, I think you'd lose a lot of the one-off posters if you did that, so it might not be a good idea, and captchas are way too annoying. Maybe you could disallow links in usernames.

  14. Cj 2013.02.24

    wandered back over here to see if there was any discussion on SB 114 - to add a definition of smoking. Looks like you were right Cory! This did end up in the legislature and i think the fact that the city pursued this route in lieu of allowing the court proceedings to play out validates our original position.

Comments are closed.