Canadian Cancer Society wants hookah lounges banned in Sask.

Saskatchewan’s current legislation bans the smoking and vaping of cannabis and tobacco in public places but smoking shisha is allowed. The Canadian Cancer Society Saskatchewan wants that to change.

Hookah lounges are allowed in the province as long as they use non-tobacco products

Hookah and shisha pipes date back centuries, with origins in the Middle East, South Africa and India. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Cancer Society's Saskatchewan branch wants hookah lounges banned in the province.

Although they are banned in other provinces, hookah lounges have been allowed to operate in Saskatchewan because they use a non-tobacco smoking product which doesn't fall under the current smoking bans.

"Water pipe cafes should not be allowed because they are dangerous to human health," said Donna Pasiechnik​, the manager of tobacco control for the Canadian Cancer Society Saskatchewan.

"We have banned smoking in indoor places, outdoor places, public places so it makes no sense that water pipe cafes would be allowed to operate."

Shisha, the substance smoked in hookah pipes, is traditionally a tobacco and water concoction sometimes mixed with glycerin and/or honey and smoked through a water pipe. The practice started centuries ago in places like India, the Middle East and South Africa.

Saskatchewan's current legislation bans the smoking of cannabis and tobacco in public places, but smoking a herbal shisha alternative is still allowed inside buildings across the province.

Bodega, a tapas bar in Regina, has been hosting hookah nights on Wednesdays throughout the summer where people can sit on the patio and pay to smoke herbal shisha from a hookah while they eat and drink.

"We just wanted to do a different culture pop-up and we just thought it would be trendy and unique and different and bring in a different crowd," said Keenan Pacheco, the executive chef at Bodega.

"It's a different experience than the hookah bars we have now so people can come in and get a nice cocktail, food and just sit down and enjoy themselves."

He said the reception has been very positive and they often have hour-long wait lists to get a table and a hookah.

Pacheco brought the idea of a hookah night to Bodega from his past experience at the hookah lounges in Calgary.

"It was a bunch of friends, we would get a big shawarma platter and we'd all sit there have a hookah, drink a mango lassi and eat shawarma all night," he said.

"In my mind because we are a tapas bar, that's what we do...You sit down with a bunch of friends, you get some drinks, get some food and you enjoy yourself."

'They found a loophole'

In a statement provided to CBC News, the Ministry of Health said hookah lounges are not subject to the Tobacco Control Act because, "the Act states that no one can 'smoke or hold lighted tobacco' in an enclosed public place. Since shisha is an herbal product, it doesn't meet the definition of tobacco under the Act."

According to Pacheco, Bodega only uses herbal shisha in accordance with the laws.

Pasiechnik said hookah lounges "are circumventing the law."

Five provinces have banned water pipe cafes because they are dangerous to human health Saskatchewan should do the same.- Donna Pasiechnik​, Canadian Cancer Society Saskatchewan

"They found a loophole in the Tobacco Control Act by claiming that these products that are smoked are herbal, when in fact testing has shown that most of them contain tobacco," she said, citing a 2011 study done in Ottawa that found 19 of 20 hookah lounges tested had tobacco in what they claimed to herbal products.

Pasiechnik also said air quality tests have found the environment is hazardous to human health for patrons as well as workers.

"They produce harmful substances and cancer causing substances and we have been advocating for a number of years that water pipe cafes not be allowed," she said.

The looming legalization of marijuana is also causing concern for the Canadian Cancer Society, which fears people will start to smoke cannabis oils in hookah lounges under protection of scented oils that mask the smell of marijuana.

"We commend the government for banning vaping and cannabis lounges, but we're saying by allowing water pipe lounges to still exist that is going to be a problem where people can potentially smoke cannabis and tobacco," said Pasiechnik​.

'Wouldn't be too inconspicuous'

Pacheco said he is not worried about people spiking hookah's with tobacco or cannabis oils because Bodega only uses shisha from trustworthy producers. He also said it would be very difficult for a guest to add the oils and get away with it.

"You'd have to take the hot coal off and then take the tin foil off...it wouldn't be too inconspicuous," he said.

"It hasn't been tried here, and I don't think people would just because of the hassle that it would be."

Even still, Pasiechnik wants hookah lounges gone.

"Five provinces have banned water pipe cafes because they are dangerous to human health Saskatchewan should do the same."

Currently, hookah lounges are banned in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, along with some major cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health said in a statement it is aware of some municipalities in other provinces that have created bylaws to address this issue, but says there are "currently no plans to further regulate hookah lounges in Saskatchewan."