Smoking shisha could be banned for those under 21 and limited to a small number of existing hookah bars, if a package of bills considered by the City Council today become law.

Currently, anyone 18 years or older can smoke or purchase shisha, as well as hookah pipes or rolling papers. Councilmember Ydanis A. Rodriguez introduced two pieces of legislation today that would raise the legal minimum for those activities to 21, and ban shisha from being sold anywhere other than hookah bars, tobacco bars, and tobacco stores.

An additional piece of legislation introduced by Councilmember Vincent J. Gentile would add non-tobacco shisha to the city's Smoke-Free Air Act, banning the opening of new hookah lounges and only allowing existing lounges to continue selling shisha if they derive more than 50 percent of their revenue from doing so.

The Smoke-Free Air Act does not currently prohibit non-tobacco shisha smoking indoors. But in the past, supposedly tobacco-free hookah lounges have been found to be serving product with tobacco in it. Those testifying before the council in favor of restrictions on shisha referenced studies that have shown it to carry many of the same risks as cigarette smoking, and that smokers take in more smoke from hookah than from cigarettes.

"Regardless of whether it's tobacco-based or non-tobacco-based hookah, we know that the products of the combustion, both the shisha and the charcoal that's generally used to maintain the combustion, it emits...a variety of chemical mixes that are entirely consistent with every other kind of smoke that's out there," said Daniel Kass, Deputy Commissioner at Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "The one thing it's missing is nicotine."

Hookah bar owners who testified at today's hearing objected to the requirement that half of their revenue come from hookah, because they would also be prevented from serving hookah at more than 5 percent of their tables.

Some of the council seemed to be leaning toward a complete ban on shisha. Councilmember Corey Johnson said that "some things are allowed by law that maybe shouldn't be allowed by law," and Councilmember James Vacca questioned, "Why don't we outlaw this totally? Aren't we beating around the bush a little bit with this regulation, that regulation?"

But Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who said he was supportive of raising the age for shisha and spreading awareness of its health risks, said that banning it altogether seems a step too far, given that unlike cigarette smoking, hookah smoking is a destination activity, not something occurring at every bar or restaurant in the city.

"The individual that goes into a hookah bar would be unintelligent to think that when they walk in there's no smoke," he said. "It's a smoke bar. It's a hookah bar...I think people are making a conscious decision that they're harming themselves."