By Sue Ellen Woodcock
The Board of Health has given a local restaurant owner until Dec. 1 to come into compliance with the state’s workplace smoking law.
Tuesday night Nassar Belghiti, owner of the Kasbah in Winthrop Center, came to a public hearing with the Board of Health to discuss violations of the state’s smoking laws. Nick LoConte, chairman of the Board of Health, said he also wanted to explore how the two sides can work together to bring the business into compliance.
“We are enforcing the state law for a smoke-free workplace,” LoConte said, adding that Winthrop smoking regulation is parallel to the state’s.
LoConte said the Kasbah is licensed as a restaurant. As a restaurant no smoking of any “combustibles” is allowed. If there is no restaurant license there can be no liquor license.
Bonny Carroll, director of the Tobacco Control Program for the Six City Tobacco Initiative, visited the Kasbah on three separate occasions after 10 p.m. each time observing people smoking hookahs. Each time she issued a ticket: $100 for first time, $200 for the second and $300 for the third. The third time the owner was present and the two of them discussed the regulation. Carroll said they also discussed how to become a legal hookah bar.
A letter was then sent to the Board of Health asking Belghiti to appear at a public hearing before the board and discuss the situation.
“We are not interested in shutting you down your business,” LoConte said.
Phil Boncore, a member of the Town Council and a local attorney, made it clear he did not represent Belgheti, but is a friend. Boncore said the letter sent to Belgheti was a “disgrace.” In addition, the hearing was to be held at the health office on Kennedy Drive and then moved to Town Hall.
“This is America and you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Boncore said. “I think you’d lose in court.”
“I need the hookahs at the Kasbah,” Belgheti said. “It’s the only thing that’s kept me open all these years.”
Belgheti has owned the Kasbah for 15 years and the state work place tobacco law came in to place in 2014. The current Board of Health is relatively new and is enforcing the town’s and state’s regulations.
“We are interested in collaborating with you to get a solution,” said Board of Health member Heather Engman. “We’re concerned about violations of state and Winthrop regulations and we don’t have the power to wave them.”
D.J. Wilson, director of the Municipal Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program (part of the Massachusetts Municpal Association), said there are only 19 legal hookah bars in the state. He added that the state’s smoke-free workplace law permits smoking bars.
“You’ve known and been around for awhile,” said Wilson, who noted three other complaints in past years.
Wilson explained how Belgheti can become a smoking bar by applying for a permit with the Department of Revenue. Belghiti would have to prove that more than 51 percent of his sales from tobacco, even though shisha smoked in the hookah is made from fruit. LoConte explained that the law states anything “combustible”. He said there could be hookah allowed outdoors. He also explained how others have set up two separated places. There could also be a covered over outdoor space.
“The ultimate goal is to get you in compliance,” LoConte said.
“I’m just scared,” Belghiti said. “I’ve invested a lot of money over the years and I am too far in to pull out.”
LoConte said the board would not issue any more violations for the next 45 days while Belghiti applies with the DOR.
“You’re technically breaking the law right now but we will give you until Dec. 1,” LoConte said.