The owner of a Plymouth hookah lounge is looking to open a similar operation in the college town of Bridgewater, but the proposal got off to a rocky start.
Maryanna Nagle owns Lux Hookah Lounge in downtown Plymouth, where patrons can smoke sweetened tobacco. She submitted an amendment to Bridgewater’s smoking bylaw that would have opened the way for the lounge.
But after discussing the ills of smoking, the Bridgewater Town Council tabled the amendment request indefinitely last month.
The door remains open for another try.
“Any of the councilors could bring it back, or the applicant could,” Town Manager Michael Dutton said.
Nagle said she is “letting it cool off” before making her next move. “Bridgewater is not off the table, but we’re looking at other locations as well,” she said.
The market is wide open in the area, Nagle said. “Our Plymouth lounge is the only one between Boston and Providence.”
A hookah filters tobacco smoke through water before it is inhaled. Such waterpipes date back centuries to ancient Persia and India, and hookah lounges have remained social gathering places in the Middle East and now enjoy popularity worldwide.
In this country, studies have shown that hookah lounges thrive near college campuses, a fact that prompted Nagle to look at Bridgewater.
Bridgewater State University “has 12,000 students, and our demographic is 18- to 25-year-olds,” she said.
Nagle plans to model her second lounge on the Plymouth operation, where patrons relax with the hookah, drink nonalcoholic beverages, and play board games. Classic Arab films are shown on TVs, and a belly dancer entertains weekends. Nagle described it as “a little haven of culture.”
Besides Plymouth, there are hookah lounges in Boston, Winthrop, Worcester, and Lawrence, and possibly others among the 20 smoking lounges — many devoted to cigars — statewide. State law allows for hookah lounges if they are primarily engaged in the sale of tobacco products to be used on the premises and only open to patrons 18 years old or older. They require smoking bar permits from the local health board and the state Department of Revenue.
And in some cases, as in Bridgewater’s, they need local bylaws loosened to allow their operation.
Nagle said she had planned to be present when the amendment was brought before the Bridgewater Town Council, but was not notified prior to last month’s discussion.
“If I was present and was able to educate them, it might have gone differently,” she said. “I had information packets for them.”
“We know smoking is bad for you, but so is drinking,” said Bridgewater Health Agent Eric Badger, adding that he believes in freedom of choice. “If you’re a smoker, you can choose to go in there.”
Nagle says her tobacco and fruit blends are all natural. The tobacco contains no tar and only .05 percent nicotine, she said.
Councilor William Wood, who was outspoken during the Bridgewater Town Council’s discussion, said he is not likely to change his mind.
“No level of tobacco use is safe,” Wood said in an e-mail, pointing out that smoking is banned on the university’s campus and in the town’s public places.
He said it is his “responsibility as a town councilor” to continue the ban approved by local voters.
Health organizations agree with Wood on hookah smoking. In an e-mail, Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that hookah smokers are at risk for the same diseases caused by cigarette smoking.
“An hourlong hookah session can involve inhaling 100 times the amount of smoke from a single cigarette,” McAfee wrote.
In Boston, health officials stopped issuing new permits for hookah lounges in 2008 due to smoking-related health concerns, said Public Health Commission spokesman Nick Martin.
The four existing lounges were allowed to remain open until 2018, when they will need the city’s approval to continue.
In Bridgewater, Councilor Peter Colombotos said a hookah lounge would not be an asset to downtown. “I’d like to see a business come in that is accessible to everyone, not just 20-year-olds looking for something exotic,” he said.
Not all officials are against the operation coming to Bridgewater.
Bridgewater Business Association president Nicholas Palmieri said his organization supports any business “that follows the rules and fills a need.”
“From a personal perspective, it’s a matter of choice, and I don’t see why [the council] can’t give residents the opportunity to make the decision on their own,” Palmieri said.
Lux Hookah Lounge did not require a bylaw change in Plymouth, and the smoking bar permit was granted with little discussion last winter. The lounge opened in May.
“I don’t recall us being very concerned, and it’s right in downtown in an area we really care about,” Plymouth Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said.
Arrighi said the operation is quiet and appears successful. “I would encourage Bridgewater, with the way they need business, to bring them in and see what they do,” she said. “The town manager can reach out to me if he has any concerns.”