Ottawa city council votes to ban smoking from hookah waterpipes in public

Ottawa city council has voted to ban smoking waterpipes in public places, a move hookah lounge owners have said could be "devastating" for their businesses.

Ban will take effect Dec. 1 but won't be enforced until April 3, 2017

Ottawa Public Health says there are 15 establishments in Ottawa where customers smoke water pipes. (Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

Ottawa city council has voted to ban smoking waterpipes in public places, a move hookah lounge owners have said could be "devastating" for their businesses.

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

Ottawa Public Health says smoking hookah waterpipes exposes the public to the risks of second-hand smoke. 

The bylaw will take effect on Dec. 1, but won't be enforced until April 3, 2017.

Motion to delay implementation defeated

Osgoode Ward Coun. George Darouze introduced a last-minute motion before the vote designed to cushion the blow for hookah lounge owners. 

The motion pointed out that smoking shisha is an important cultural practice for many ethnic groups across the city. 

Darouze asked that the ban not be implemented until Sept. 30, 2017, allowing businesses that rely on shisha sales enough time to change their business models or sell within a reasonable time frame. 

Only four councillors voted for the motion and 19 were against. 

Mayor Jim Watson said it should come as no surprise to hookah lounger owners that the city was seeking to ban shisha smoking. 

"We've been talking about this for four years, there's been a public consultation that started a year ago, so businesses have known that we've been heading down this road for some time," Watson said. 

'It will have a devastating impact'

This is part of our culture.- Sami   Jahanti , VIP  Shisha

Some hookah lounge owners say they run the risk of bankruptcy as a result of the vote. 

"On our business, it will have a devastating impact," said Julia Moussa, who has owned the Bay Rock Café in South Keys for almost two years.

"We're really stuck. I have no idea what to do."

Sami Jahanti, owner of VIP Shisha on Preston Street, is in a similar position.

"I put all my investing in this business and I'm losing all of it. So I will automatically go bankrupt."

Jahanti said his product — which is entirely herbal, and is a big part of Middle Eastern culture — should not be treated like tobacco.

"Lots of our people, they don't want to go to a bar, they don't drink alcohol. But they smoke shisha. This is part of our culture," Jahanti said. "When we're living in a multicultural country, we have to be respect the other culture, too. This is part of our tradition."

Ottawa Public Health says smoking shisha has been gaining popularity, and that it normalizes smoking. (Michel Spingler/Associated Press)

Watson rejects the idea that the ban is targeting a Middle Eastern cultural practice. 

"I see it as a public health issue, not a cultural issue. We don't allow smoking of any other kind in enclosed buildings, restaurants, bars, offices. And I think fair is fair that we should be consistent in our approach to public safety," he said.​