Many of Ottawa's shisha and hookah bars are still operating, despite a city ban on smoking water pipes in public places that came into effect six months ago.

The city is actively investigating nine businesses suspected of selling and allowing customers to smoke hookah. 

Hookah — also known as shisha — is a water pipe popular among some middle eastern communities. Last year city council banned businesses from selling and allowing customers to smoke the pipe. 

The ban means smoking shisha from hookah pipes falls in line with smoking tobacco, which has been prohibited from Ottawa restaurants and patios for 15 years.

"Compliance isn't what we expected," said Roger Chapman, the city's bylaw manager.

He said he hoped more businesses would fall in line with the ban when it came into effect in April.

Chapman said so far the city has laid approximately 70 charges related to the hookah ban. Only one has successfully made it through the court system. The rest are still awaiting court dates.

Hookah bars biding their time

Osgoode Coun. George Darouze said some business owners he's spoken with are worried they won't be able to stay in business if they can't offer the water pipe. 

"What I hear right now from most of the owners is that it's the financial implications," he said. 

Meanwhile, several hookah establishments in Ottawa have filed an appeal against the ban, arguing it infringes on their cultural rights.

Darouze said many businesses are likely biding their time in hopes the appeal will be successful. Chapman could not say whether existing charges would be dealt with in the courts before the appeal is heard.

Darouze voted against the ban last year. He is Lebanese, and said he sometimes smokes the water pipe when he's at home with friends or family.

Though he doesn't support banning the practice of smoking shisha in public cafes, he said the ship has sailed.

"They missed the boat. They missed the opportunity when they really needed to talk to their councillors and talk to committee," he said. 

The legal debate over whether to end the hookah ban for good is scheduled to resume in February.