Hookah bars are notoriously difficult to open. Navigating through not only state, but city-wide "no smoking" legislation is not an easy task and just one of the many things you need to do. The biggest hurdle with opening a hookah bar has to do with smoking laws which, at a bare minimum, ban smoking in public places. This technically includes any tobacco products but there are a number of loopholes and exemptions to this law that vary by state or city and allow for the opening of hookah bars.
When you are navigating hookah bar laws and regulations there are a few key things you should look out for. Most of this information can be found in your state or city's "smoking ban" legislation.
Statewide smoking laws versus city or county legislation: Many states have statewide smoking laws which, at a minimum, prevent smoking of many types in public places. For states that don't and also for those that do, sometimes, city or county law will trump the state laws meaning that a city government can choose to create smoking laws that are more strict than the state laws.
What this means for you: Just because you are obeying the state laws doesn't mean you are obeying the city laws. It's very important to check with your local government to see if you are operating under the correct laws.
Department of Health certificates of exemption: In some states, the Department of Health will offer exemption from smoking laws given you pass their standard of revenue distribution.
What this means for you: Check with your DOH to see if any of these exemptions exist. Be sure you are diligent in documenting the percentage of revenue that comes from tobacco.
Getting your tobacco license: You must have a license to sell tobacco products in your establishment. These licenses are offered by state, city or county and usually are good for 12 months.
What this means for you: You must properly display this license in your venue and make sure it is renewed every year. This is a recurring expense in your ledger.
Proper Ventilation: Many cities will have laws explaining the ventilation you need for an indoor smoking establishment like cigar bars or hookah bars. These are usually found in the 'exemptions' section of your city or state's smoking laws.
What this means for you: If your space is not properly ventilated this could cost a lot of money. You could save yourself costs by looking only for spaces with proper ventilation so do this research before you settle on your space.
Getting your music license: Every establishment playing music publically must have a music license. This means you cannot play music off of your smartphone without having a license even if you already pay for a subscription or have purchased songs.
What this means for you: Not having a music license can result in fines from licensing companies, ASCAP or BMI. Most bars find it easiest to use a music solution that covers all of these costs for them. To learn more about Rockbot's solution and start a free trial, click here.
Finding these hookah bar laws is difficult and time-consuming, so we put together a list of resources. This will give you a great starting point for understanding where you stand and what kind of exemptions you will need to open your hookah bar.
https://no-smoke.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/100ordlisttabs.pdf - municipalities not allowing smoking
Your local Department of Health