R.D. Hohenfeldt covers city council, school board, planning and zoning commission and the hospital board for The Rolla Daily News. He also blogs at www.TheOzarksAlmanac.blogspot.com and www.TheOzarksAlmanac.com.

Rolla is a perfect spot for a hookah lounge, but will the Rolla City Council (and SAFERolla) relent and amend the strict ban on smoking wherever people work for wages?

“Because of the way our ordinance is written, we can’t allow this,” Councilman Jimmy Dale Williams said Monday night after a couple of businessmen pitched the idea to the council.

No action was taken; the council will likely take up the question at the next meeting.

The agenda identified the hookah bar proponents as Mr. Muthanna Aldahhan and Mr. Jamil Altar, of World Wide Foods.

Altar identified himself as a St. Louisan; Aldahhan, a Rolla resident.

Their store is at 1033 Kingshighway; it has been a food market and a restaurant serving Mediterranean food, Altar said, but they want to close the restaurant and operate a hookah bar. They also want to serve pastries, cold-cut sandwiches and coffee. There will be no cooking on the premises.

“This has been very successful in St. Louis,” Altar said.

He acknowledged that they already have a sign installed above the door that denotes the place as a hookah bar, but he insisted that the smoking has been going on outside only.

What exactly is a hookah? It’s a water pipe used for smoking.

You may have heard of them before if you paid attention to a well-known children’s book. A three-inch caterpillar smoked a hookah in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” (or “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”). I’m not sure what the little worm was smoking in his pipe, for it “took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. ‘Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.” Whatever he was smoking made him sleepy.

The Jefferson Airplane band recorded a song called “White Rabbit” that made reference to “a hookah-smoking caterpillar.”

I recall seeing hookahs in small shops in Columbia way back in time when I was a university student. There was a sign next to the hookahs that said “sold for display purposes only.”

Altar told the council that hookah bars are especially popular in college towns or in cities near college campuses.

Just before their presentation, another fellow, identified in the agenda as Mr. Kodie Campbell, spoke in favor of a “hookah bar” in Rolla.

Campbell identified himself as a Vichy resident. I’m not sure if he was speaking in favor of the hookah bar at World Wide Foods specifically or if he was speaking in favor of hookah bars generally. I guess it was both. He likes hookah bars and wants the city council to allow any business that does 75 percent or more of its business in the sale of tobacco to be allowed to open a hookah bar on the premises.

Many cities allow businesses like that to offer smoking rooms, he said, and he was armed with figures and statistics about cities that have smoking bans yet allow smoking lounges.

In summary, he said a hookah bar gives people a place to go in Rolla.

In other words, it is a tourist destination.

Altar explained flavored tobacco goes into the top part of the pipe. The tobacco is set afire and smoke is drawn from the burning tobacco by sucking on a tube. The smoke goes through water before it reaches the mouth and lungs of the smoker. The water cools the smoke. It is reported to be a pleasurable experience to breathe in the smoke from a hookah.

No matter how pleasurable, it is as illegal to smoke a hookah in the workplace as it is to smoke a cigarette.

City Administrator John Butz said the workplace ban ordinance would have to be amended to allow a hookah bar.

“I still couldn’t support the hookah bar if we’re going to discriminate against other businesses,” Councilman Williams said. “We’re not being fair to our business people already here who would like to have smoking allowed. I can’t do it.”

But Councilman Lou Magdits said, “I think it’s wrong to say it can’t be done.” He said a smoking lounge, a cigar lounge, a hookah bar could be specified as allowable while retaining a ban on smoking in Rolla’s workplaces.

And Magdits added another twist when he asked the men to describe the cultural significance of a hookah bar for “this is an international community.”

Altar said, “It is very common in the Middle East.” He said hookah bars were introduced in the United States in 2000.

Councilman William Lindgren said he believes the flavored tobacco smoked in a cooling water pipe is a gateway to more tobacco use by young people, a trend Rolla wants to get away from.

Moreover, he said, it seems to be a fad.

“I don’t know why we’d want to change our ordinance for a fad,” Lindgren said. “This is a fad. It just needs to be allowed to die.”

Councilman Steven Leonard said smoking isn’t the main worry for people with health concerns: “The biggest contributor to heart attack is a sedentary lifestyle.”

“Our ordinance is way too broad,” he said. “I want to revisit the smoking ordinance.

Leonard said the ban is affecting the Rolla bar business

Altar said he would like to bring a hookah to the next council meeting to demonstrate it. Butz, laughing, said the businessman could bring the hookah but not fire it up in the public building. Butz said people who would to see a demonstration of a hookah should check YouTube on the Internet.

What a dilemma the council now finds itself in. Will it allow smoking in a hookah bar? Will it allow tobacco shops to become tobacco lounges? Will it use the cultural connection as a reason to allow hookah bars but not smoking in regular bars? Will redneck culture rise up and demand equal consideration when drinking beer and whiskey? Will highbrow culture rise up and demand equal consideration for smoking while sipping martinis? Will trendy, hipster culture rise up and demand to be allowed to smoke while drinking brewpub crafts?

Do you have an opinion on allowing hookah smoking? We’d like to hear it.