Utah gives hookah the hook

Starting in mid-September, Utah bars and clubs cannot allow patrons to smoke most hookah products indoors.

The Utah Department of Health announced Monday that it has amended the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act to ban hookah products that contain tobacco. The rule goes into effect Sept. 12.

“The purpose of the clarification is to protect people from exposure to second hand smoke. Even minimal amounts of exposure is considered harmful,” said Steve Hadden, a health program specialist in the department’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

The rule does not grandfather clubs that currently offer hookah.

Nathan Porter, owner of the Murray-based Huka Bar & Grill and Huka Lounge, sought such an exception from the health department, since his businesses opened in 2005. On Monday, he said he plans to sue the state and the health department, saying the rule is discriminatory against hookah smokers.

He said the rule would put him out of business. While hookah-related sales account for 15 percent to 20 percent of his business — the clubs also sell food and alcohol — he said hookah is what his bar is about.

“You take hookah away from the Huka Bar, now what are we? We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars marketing this business,” he said.

He maintains that hookah pipes don’t emit secondhand smoke, citing a 2009 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It says research on the effects of hookah secondhand smoke is sparse, and that the secondhand smoke is largely made up of smoke that has been filtered within the pipe and by the smoker’s respiratory tract.
“When we’re talking about the Huka Bar and people go there to smoke hookah; who are they trying to protect? They don’t like our type of business,” Porter said.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains the secondhand smoke “poses a serious risk for nonsmokers, “particularly because it contains smoke not only from the tobacco but also from the heat source (e.g., charcoal) used in the hookah.”

Health officials also fear hookah pipes appeal to young adults, attracted by flavors like apple-cinnamon and chocolate. And the American Lung Association and the World Health Organization have raised concerns about the health effects of water pipe smoking on the smoker, saying it carries similar risks of addiction, cancers and heart disease as cigarette smoking.

Hadden said the health department does not know how many businesses will be affected by the rule change. While there doesn’t appear to be many clubs billed as hookah lounges, some bars offer hookah pipes to patrons.

He said club employees deserve to be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke.

The changes made to the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act come more than a year after the health department received questions from local health departments, businesses and individuals seeking clarification on whether the act covered hookah smoke or just cigarette and cigar smoke. Since January 2009, the state has banned smoking in bars and clubs.

By Heather May
The Salt Lake Tribune
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