The owners of Calgary's hookah bars want an exemption from the city's new smoking bylaw.

The ban on smoking in most public places passed in October andgoes into effect Jan. 1.

As it stands, the bylaw would mean customers at bars such as Cafe Mediterranean would no longer be able to smokeflavoured tobacco using awater pipe known as a hookah.

Majed Abdo, the owner of Cafe Mediterranean, told CBC News that he hopes to persuade the city to give him an exemption from the bylaw based on cultural grounds.

"They're not realizing the background of this hookah, what the culture is behind it," he said. "We have to let them know by meeting with them."

Hookah bars have been an important part of Middle Eastern culture for centuries, he said, adding that half of the business at his cafe is from people coming to smoke the water pipes.

Bill Bruce, Calgary's director of bylaw services, said unless an exemption is granted, the bars will be in violation of the bylaw.

"I'm afraid it puts their business at risk," he said.

The city is discussing options with hookah bar owners. However, it will be up to city council to decide whether to grant the bars an exemption, Bruce said.

Bars and restaurants with separate smoking rooms, along with casinos and bingo halls have already been given a one-year exemption.