Just a couple weeks after a to come to New Lenox, the Village Board voted to expand the state's smoking ban to include businesses that primarily sell tobacco products.
For some, the timing was a bit suspect: Did the village decide to ban smoking in such retail tobacco shops because smoking is unhealthy, or were there other factors at play, such as race?
"It could be seen as racist," said Hashem Hamad, manager of , which allowed smoking inside under a state exemption. Hamad is Palestinian and has managed the business for five and a half years. "When New Lenox is 96 percent white, it could seem like it unless they explain why they're (going further than the state ban)."
Hookah lounges and cigar shops are exempt under the state's smoking ban because they qualify as retail tobacco shops. The new local ordinance outlaws smoking in such establishments.
The board's explanation for expanding the ban is that after learning a retail tobacco shop could come to town, trustees shouldn't be "promot(ing) any smoking," Mayor Tim Baldermann said. Hookah lounge owners Ehab Moustafa and Ahmed Ansari could not be contacted to comment, but previously argued that hookah includes less than one-tenth the nicotine that a cigarette does.
Some readers said the board's decision was targeting the hookah lounge specifically. They wondered why cigar and cigarette shops such as Tobacco 4 Less were allowed to operate under the state's exemption for a few years, but when a business that wouldn't be able to exist under the ban makes plans to come here and is turned back.
When asked that question, Baldermann admitted he wasn't aware the businesses exempt under the state law allowed smoking inside, and he said there would be an end to that. He said race has nothing to do with the board's decision; he simply wanted to address the issue because he thought this was the first time a tobacco-based business would allow indoor smoking in New Lenox.