Augie Nguyen is attempting to capitalize on what he calls the current popularity of flavored hookahs with his new shop, , on Route 15 in Lake Hopatcong, that opened in early August.
However, the store is not without controversy.
Besides a selection of cigarettes and cigars, the shop offers a wide selection of flavored hookah and hookah pipes, as well as tobacco and rolling papers for customers who wish to roll their own cigarettes.
“There’s a hookah bar in Montclair, N.J., and they are all over New York City,” Nguyen said. “With the flavored hookahs that are out now, many people are smoking it.”
But not everyone in the township is happy with Nguyen’s new business, particularly the Jefferson Police.
“While we know the products being sold are totally legal, we don’t condone the sale of products that can be used for illegal purposes,” Police Capt. Eric Wilsusen said.
Back in 2008, Wilsusen spearheaded an effort to have an ordinance passed in the township prohibiting the sale of paraphernalia.
“At the time, we had a problem with several gas stations in town selling paraphernalia,” Wilsusen said.
Jefferson considered an ordinance that had been passed in East Rutherford, but township attorney Lawrence Cohen felt that ordinance was too restrictive and “could be used to prosecute people who were very innocently in possession of certain items,” adding that, “there are some state laws dealing with drug paraphernalia that are much more narrow and they can be used for prosecution.”
New Jersey Statute 2C:36-1 provides a definition of paraphernalia.
Nguyen does not believe the products he sells are often used for illegal purposes.
“Thirty years ago I might have thought that,” he said. “But with hookah bars being so popular now, I think that people are buying these products for completely legal reasons. People like the different flavors of hookah.”
Nguyen insisted that every customer wishing to purchase products is asked for proof of age, and no one under 19 can purchase any type of tobacco or product.
“Live and let live,” Jefferson resident Robert Charles said. “Everyone has the right to try and make a living.”
J Tobacco’s neighbors are divided on their opinions of the store.
“I really don’t know too much about the business or what it sells, so I can’t really give an opinion,” said Bill Colarusso, of All Budget Cellular.
“I would have preferred to see a more community-friendly business go into that spot,” said Judy Castiglione, of Three Chicks Florist.