Smoking ban bill may force hookah bar menu to change

Dylan Boyle

The statewide smoking ban working its way through the state legislature may force Mohamed Ali, owner of the Chicha Shack, 2418 Lincoln Way, to make some changes to his establishment.

Ultimately, those changes depend on what compromises lawmakers will propose to settle the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Although a smoking ban does pose a threat to the tobacco-oriented Chicha Shack, Ali doesn’t think he will be completely shut down.

“The way I understood the bill, if you have 90 percent or more business from tobacco, you can have smoke in your shop because your business depends on tobacco,” Ali said.

Ali said 85 percent of his business is tobacco-based, 10 percent comes from food and 5 percent comes from alcohol sales. Ali said that if he were forced to, he would get rid of food or alcohol sales to meet the 90 percent requirement.

“If they force me to do that, I have to do that,” Ali said. “I mainly depend on tobacco sales – alcohol is secondary and food is secondary.”

The issue of a smoking ban, Ali said, comes down to the idea of free choice.

He thinks business owners should have the right to choose whether or not to be smoke-free.

“In my opinion, this is all wrong,” he said.

Ali feels legislators shouldn’t be regulating his business on behalf of nonsmokers because nonsmokers don’t go to his establishment anyway.

“I have been in business since 2004. Thousands of people have already come to smoke, and in four years, maybe only 10 nonsmokers have come in,” Ali said.

In the unlikely event that the state would require the Chicha Shack to be shut down or stop serving tobacco, Ali said he is ready to fight back against the state.

“I would hire the biggest lawyer in the country and take it to the Supreme Court. But so far, I don’t think they can touch me, because I am a smoke shop and my primary sales are tobacco,” Ali said.

Like other business owners, Ali is frustrated that casinos were given an exemption in the House version of the bill.

“If they are really worried about people’s health, then they should ban it completely everywhere and not have any exemptions,” Ali said.

State Rep. Dave Deyoe, a Republican who represents District 10, which includes Story County east and north of Ames, as well as part of Hamilton County, is concerned about exemptions as well. He said when the state decides to give exemptions, problems arise because someone is always left out.

Ali, who graduated from Iowa State with a bachelor’s degree in management, said he brought the business to Ames to allow people to experience the culture of the Middle East.

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat who represents District 23, which includes all of Ames, and associate professor of economics, said he couldn’t comment on the matter yet because he didn’t know the specific differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill regarding tobacco stores.

Quirmbach said that, although the Senate version of the bill has been sent back to the House and can be voted on, he expects the bill to go into conference in the near future.