Until there is a resolution, Orange County should stop fining Adam Bliss.
Bliss, owner of the popular Chapel Hill smoking establishment Hookah Bliss, was fined $200 Monday for not complying with the new indoor smoking ban mandated by the state. He will continue to be fined $200 by the health department for every day that he is open.
Bliss plans to appeal the fines and is preparing for a possible court case against the county.
The problem is that the appeals process has not officially begun, and the case has not yet been heard in court.
Yet the health department will continue to fine Bliss.
The fines should be stopped until the appeal and possible court case is heard.
The state should also reconsider its decision not to grant hookah bars an exemption to the indoor smoking law.
According to the law, a business with an alcohol license is classified as a bar and is prohibited from allowing smoking indoors. Cigar bars and country clubs were given an exemption, even if they still profit from alcohol sales.
Though hookah bars operate on a similar business plan, they have not been granted such an exemption.
This distinction does not make any sense.
Country clubs or cigar bars attract a different clientele than hookah bars, but their business model is fundamentally the same.
When the smoking bill was being put together, it was observed that many members of the legislature did not understand what a hookah bar was.
Legislators need to explain to the public why hookah bars were not given the same privileges as more upscale tobacco businesses.
When it comes to Hookah Bliss, Orange County would be wise to follow the lead of such counties as New Hanover, which only administers fines after each complaint.
This approach makes sure that the law is enforced properly while allowing businesses such as Hookah Bliss to survive until the legal process is concluded.
Hookah Bliss should be allowed to exercise its right to due process before it has to close down.
If it is not afforded the opportunity to do so, the health department’s reputation should go up in smoke.