Fargo will get its first hookah hangout when Space Hookah Lounge opens in the next couple of months. Hookah smoking has gained popularity in the U.S. over the past few years, and Yassin Wazwaz, the 21-year-old owner, said he thinks Fargo residents will be receptive to his new tobacco shop and smoking lounges opening at 4900 13th Ave. S.
The lounge skirts Fargo’s smoking ban because it is considered a tobacco outlet, the only kind of business exempt from the ordinance.
While the law allows hookah lounges, Fargo Cass Public Health officials have concerns about health risks involved with the practice, said Chelsey Matter, a tobacco coordinator for the agency.
A hookah is a smoking instrument that uses a water pipe, similar to a bong.
The tobacco products used in hookahs are often imported and not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, yet they still contain many of the same harmful substances as Pall Mall cigarettes, Matter said.
Much of the hookah tobacco packaging contains claims that it is nicotine or tar free, Matter said. “It could be very misleading for consumers,” she said.
Fargo Cass Health met with the business owner last week and encouraged him to post signs that remind consumers that hookah smoking is not a risk-free activity, Matter said.
The tobacco smoked in a hookah is often flavored, which Matter said causes concern over younger adults that may think a hookah is safer than smoking.
“If you walk in and it smells like strawberries, people are probably less likely to think it’s harmful,” Matter said.
But Wazwaz said a hookah lounge is simply a fun place to meet up with some friends, smoke a hookah and maybe watch some football.
The Pyromaniacs Smoke Shop portion if the store is scheduled to open on Jan. 5, Wazwaz said. Renovations to open the separate cigar and hookah lounges will likely take an additional 60 days, he said.
Wazwaz’s family owns about 30 tobacco businesses in Minnesota, but he said he isn’t related to the Wazwaz family that was indicted in 2008 on federal tax-fraud charges for cheating the state of Minnesota out of $2.5 million in cigarette tax revenues.
The business will need a state-issued tobacco license, which costs $15 a year. As of Wednesday, Wazwaz had not filed the one-page application with the North Dakota attorney general’s office.
The state Health Department will investigate any complaints that the smoke is infiltrating other businesses in the strip mall, Matter said.
Brianna Chose, a stylist at the Super Cuts hair salon next door to the proposed shop, said she and her co-workers are concerned about smoke coming in through the building’s vents.
Smoking establishments have special ventilation requirements, which Wazwaz will have to meet, said Ron Strand, Fargo inspections administrator.
City fire, health and inspections departments have signed off on a building permit, which will be issued with a stipulation that the ventilation is updated, he said.