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Smoking lounges change menu to comply with smoking ban

The new statewide smoking ban which took effect earlier this month is changing what is served in lounges geared toward smokers. In Columbus, at least one smoking lounge is modifying what it sells to comply with the new law.

In a small lounge called Gypsy several men sit around on brightly cushioned sofas having conversation and smoking. It's one of a few spots left around Columbus where people can go to smoke. They're called shisha or hookah bars. The lounges sell flavored tobacco, or shisha. And it's smoked out of a water pipe called a hookah.

In the past, businesses where tobacco sales made up 75 percent of its gross revenue were exempt from smoking bans. Now those businesses have to generate 80 percent of its sales from tobacco because of the approval of Issue 5 in November. While that may not sound like a big increase, some local smoking lounges are making some pretty drastic changes

Mohamed Cheik is the manager of Gypsy in the Short North. Cheik said the new law is going to be an inconvenience to his patrons.

"It's a place where people come, socialize, smoke some shisha, eat some hummus," Cheik said.

Cheik said their tobacco revenue has been around 75 percent. So to increase its tobacco sales, he said the lounge has decided to sell less food. White tape already covers most of the items on the food menu. Cheik said it's an inconvenience to his customers, but he said they understand.

"It's a matter of convenience where people smoke and they'll eat some light food, but we'll just have to do less of that now," Cheik said.

Cheik said the new business strategy should help them meet the 80 percent sales requirement.

And just down the road near Clintonville is the Shisha Lounge. Bakr Younis, who is one of the owners, said their tobacco sales are always above the 80 percent mark. But Younis said if sales decline, they may take a similar approach as Gypsy.

"If the numbers didn't show eighty percent and we can not come up with those numbers we might end up canceling some of our food products and try to increase and market our tobacco products better," Younis said.

Younis said the lounge has also thought about buying its own cigarette machine to increase its sales. He said he can not imagine having to close.

"The state decided against smoking. I think we're going to have to, uh, just do whatever we can to stay open because it's a project we all like. It's a business that we all love and enjoy and that's that," Younis said.

The Ohio Department of Health will be responsible for regulating the new rules. But it has yet to come up with any guidelines. Until then, the Columbus Health Department said it will continue to enforce the old ones.