No Hookah Here: Was Race a Factor in Expanding Smoking Ban?

Other retail tobacco shops could allow smoking under a state exemption, but after a hookah lounge proposed coming to town, the Village Board expanded the ban to cover such retail spots.

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.

Marie June 23, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Wow - the problem I see here is an elected official feigning ignorance not only over such an important state ban, but claiming not to know what tobacco-based businesses can allow in their establishments in his own community. Not one board member, not one staff member, was aware of this, and yet many residents were?
New Lenox Mom June 23, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Of course race had everything to do with this. To say that as mayor you aren't aware of what the exemption means is ridiculous at best. This board should be ashamed of itself!
Naivety June 23, 2011 at 01:05 PM
Baldermann's ignorance is a bunch of malarchy. For someone in the public eye he could have constructed a better response than to quote what he did. It's really a shame, I was looking forward to NL finally bringing in some diversity rather than remaining the stark white town that we are.
Special K June 23, 2011 at 02:40 PM
""Baldermann admitted he wasn't aware the businesses exempt under the state law allowed smoking inside"" So you are saying, you had no idea people smoke at cigarette shops until now. Bullony!! Well then he is well aware now. I can't believe Tim was a police officer, or even Chief. Still.... bottom line. This business has every right to open a lounge in N.L. As much as I do NOT need or want a Hookah Lounge in N.L., it is there right to try. Baldermann or N.L. are not promoting Smoking by allowing this business to open. The residents do, by supporting the sales of tobacco, which also provides tax money for the town. I would not want a strip club, or a Homeless shelter, or any business that could bring crime, but this is the land of the free..... or Not so Free in New Lenox.
mdt June 23, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Wow -- Race? You got to be kidding. No one wants a smoking lounge in their backyard!
New Lenox Mom June 23, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Really?? Was someone going to force you to go there? Exactly what harm would this do to you?
Colleen Melchior June 23, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I have to say I am really steamed over this whole subject. I was excited to see a new business coming to nlx. It was more exotic than what nlx is used to but hey people need to try new things. They let Walmart in and I don't know about anyone else but they seem to have quite an issue with theft over there. So I guess its ok for walmart to come in and add more burden to the police force but when another business wants to open and pay taxes then we have to say no just because the mayor has personal beliefs against it. I always thought a mayor was the voice for the town not just there to make his feelings the say all end all. Oh an by the way has anyone taken notice to the fact that the lounge wanted to open in the older section of nlx that has seen many empty buildings in the last years? Carey Animal Clinic just opened in the old firehouse that stood empty for years (kudos to Carey Clinic for the ultimate recycling instead of just building new!). Also the lounge opted for a location that most people steer clear of because of the foul smell from the sanitation plant across the street. I would welcome the smell of fruit and tobacco over the smell that is already in that area. So I guess its ok for the main part of town to smell like poo almost constantly but there is no way in hell Baldermann would let a hookah lounge come help the business community of nlx.
Special K June 23, 2011 at 04:09 PM
Well said...
New Lenox Mom June 23, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Exactly Coleen!
James Madison June 23, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Let's keep in mind the fact that this building does not have the minimum parking required by law, yet Zoning approved the special use anyway. If you claim this decision was motivated by race, then you must also consider that the initial approval (in favor of the lounge) was, also racially motivated. One wonders if a "non-diverse" business owner would have been accomodated by Zoning as easily as the Hookah owners.
NL Oldie June 23, 2011 at 11:35 PM
This is not the first time this type of thing has happened. Remember the Nascar themed bar/pub that was to open in the plaza by Dunkin' Donuts? If the Village doesn't want these businesses, why do they let them go through the whole permitting process, approve the remodeling work and floor plan, let the owner invest in the materials and labor costs and THEN reject the business by not allowing a liquor license. In this case, they all voted to allow the business to open, with a shared parking agreement. Pretty underhanded for a Village that's trtying to attact more businesses. The guy who wants to reopen TJ's as a wine store better be careful.
New Lenox Mom June 23, 2011 at 11:53 PM
$$ would be the motivator. Permits arent free! There was a shared parking agreement that would have been allowed for any business which would be primarily open at night when the fireplace store was open during the day! Any business that wants to come to this town better be careful!
judd w. bonamino June 24, 2011 at 03:50 AM
way to go to our mayor. we do not need this.
Marie June 24, 2011 at 11:26 AM
The problem is that this action by a government body should not be supported. It is very disturbing to see some people believing that the government is the answer to everything. Where does this government heavihandedness stop in your opinion? When it stomps on your freedom? Or your friends' and family's opportunities? When will citizens realize that by putting increasing power and control in the hands of elected officials, they are relinquishing their own individual freedoms? Government incompetence and overreaching control is stripping away our freedom because "we" are letting it.
Beth June 24, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Race or not, the Village needs to stop interfering with what is legally allowed. While I don't smoke and have no interest in it, there are those who do and that's their right! Stop taking the freedom of choice away. For those that agree with this ban... remember, soon some of the things you enjoy will be taken away from you. It won't stop with just the few things you don't agree with.
Jill June 24, 2011 at 06:49 PM
The people of New Lenox allowed the local government to take total control when they voted the approval of Home Rule. JMO.
Marie June 24, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Home Rule doesn't give a government body carte blanche regarding expanding or restricting ordinances and state laws as a reaction to proposed businesses that they personally may or may not want in the village either. If any government body thinks that is what Home Rule gives them, then a referendum can be put on the ballot to remove Home Rule, and come election time the mayor and trustees will be replaced with individuals who actually understand recently inacted and important state laws and elect individuals who are aware of what businesses are in their own community.
nick June 24, 2011 at 11:31 PM
How do you play the Race card if the mayor is Caucasian and the Hookah lounge owners are Caucasian?
nick June 24, 2011 at 11:43 PM
I don't smoke, but it seems like government agencies have been attacking smokers for years.
David Vancina June 25, 2011 at 02:56 AM
NL Oldie: If memory serves, the guy doing the racing-themed bar did all his construction *before* getting a liquor license. That was his own bad planning. Don't blame it on the Board. They did exactly the right thing, IMO.
Missy June 25, 2011 at 02:36 PM
I wonder when he's going to try to shut down all of the bars that allow indoor drinking of alcohol....that's not healthy either , is it? Or maybe he should try to drive McDonald's and Burger King, etc. out of town, because I don't think their food is healthy either. I think he has overstepped for whatever reason....whether it is a racial issue (ok...cultural issue since the owners are Middle Eastern which is not it's own race), or not. It's something that he personally doesn't want so that means it doesn't happen. When King Baldermann speaks, everyone has to live by his rules. OR...we can just vote him out.
David Vancina June 26, 2011 at 04:53 AM
I thought I read somewhere that the board vote was unanimous on this. No?
Jeanne June 30, 2011 at 05:34 PM
<I would welcome the smell of fruit and tobacco over the smell that is already in that area.> Oh yes, cover one polution with another. Bad answer. I doubt he knew if he does not buy tabbaco. I do not & did not know they allow smoking inside. Why? Because I do not smoke. No need to ever go there. Racial? Oh my another cheap "get me some easy money" law suit do I smell? Hooray for New Lenox, keeping it clean! Second hand smoke stinks! New Lenox is doing right for thier citizens. Freedom? We still have it, just new laws to stop people from hurting others with tar, nicotine, metals and fillers etc;. (from an X smoker)


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