Ottawa Board of Health votes to tell city to ban hookah smoking in public places

The Ottawa Board of Health voted Monday night to ask the city to ban hookahs and other waterpipes from being smoked in public places, and hookah bar operators continue to oppose the move.

If passed by city council the ban would hurt business, according to restaurant and bar operators

Bab el Hara Cafe patrons smoke shisha from hookah pipes. The Ottawa Board of Health voted Monday night to ask city council to ban the practice in public places. (CBC)

The Ottawa Board of Health voted Monday night to ask the city to ban hookahs and other waterpipes from being smoked in public places, but hookah bar operators continue to oppose the move, saying it would hurt their businesses and their culture.

If passed by council, the ban would make it illegal for any workplace to allow people to smoke pipes, including hookahs, either inside or on outdoor patios.

Sinbad Restaurant and Cafe owner Ahmed Shendi says the proposal will be bad for business and the cultural fabric of his community.

"It's going to be a bigger problem for the culture here, the Arabic culture," he said.

Bab el Hara Cafe manager Haider El-Cheikh agrees, saying the vast majority of his restaurant's clients come to smoke and socialize.

"The whole thing is cultural. There's so many different cultures that smoke it," he says. "They're all into it and that's what brings people together: they order shisha and they talk."

'It's becoming more widespread'

Ottawa Public Health's Gillian Connelly, manager of health promotion and disease prevention, says smoking shisha has been gaining popularity, and that it normalizes smoking. About 50 per cent of people age 18 to 24 have tried it across all cultural denominations, she said.

"I know people are hearing that it's cultural or believe that it's cultural, but it's becoming more widespread," Connelly said. "In addition, there are a number of countries that you would presume that it would be cultural that are also banning it. So we're following suit with a number of those countries."

In her presentation Monday night she told the board that Lebanon, Turkey and parts of Saudi Arabia have banned smoking hookah in public places. A similar bylaw recently come into effect in Toronto.

Tobacco-less shisha increases the risk of cancers and heart disease because it introduces tar, carbon monoxide and other toxins into the lungs just like cigarettes, even though there's no nicotine, she said.

Shendi is not convinced the new rules would mitigate the health risk. He says it would lead to more people smoking at home instead of in a designated place and could put children and the elderly at risk of exposure to second-hand smoke.​

Both Shendi and El-Chiekh say they're waiting to see what happens when council votes on the ban in August and will try to focus on the restaurant side of their businesses.

If the ban is approved it would come into effect Dec. 1 and enforcement would begin Jan. 1, 2017.