A Tempe neighborhood is on its third try to have a nearby hookah lounge put out of business.
HB Tobacco already has won two appeals, and owner Anis Ben Harzallah is confident the City Council will decide Thursday to leave him and his customers alone because the residents' complaints have no merit.
A hookah is a water pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco. A box of the tobacco carried by Harzallah showed it to have 0.05 percent nicotine and no tar.
"I have been harassed and prejudiced against," said Harzallah, who estimates he has spent more than $15,000 defending his business.
But Steve Stewart, president of the Date Palm Manor neighborhood association, believes just as strongly Tempe's elected officials will vote to pull HB's use permit.
Stewart has argued, to date unsuccessfully, this is a matter of public health and protecting youth - such as the ones attending Tempe High School, located on the corner of Mill Avenue and Broadway Road, opposite the lounge.
"We're setting a negative example," Stewart said. "We're showing our children the dichotomy of law is OK: 'Yeah, we're against tobacco, but guess what? Here's another hookah lounge.'"
But Stewart admitted the lounge hasn't created any problems or caused crime in his neighborhood.
Tempe police records show the lounge has had only two calls for service since its December 2006 opening: a trespassing call in March and a report of a loose dog last November.
Harzallah said that smoking by underage clients, such as students, is not a problem because he checks identification to make sure customers are at least 18 years old, and his business opens at 8 p.m., long after the high school day is done.
The two men share the conviction this is such an obvious decision as to be a waste of time.
"I'm going to ask (the council) why we are even here, why has this been allowed to go this far?" Stewart said. "Somewhere, we've got to initiate some social discipline."
Said Harzallah: "It's become a joke."
Harzallah went as far as to add that the council, in letting the matter go this far, must be afraid of the residents.
Stewart, unknowingly backing the businessman's point, said if the neighbors don't get their way, the council should be worried.
"If the city of Tempe supports this, then they're supporting revenue and not morals - it's as simple as that," Stewart said. "If this council supports something which is against the children, we've got the wrong council; we've got the wrong mayor."