Hookah smoking could be banned in Toronto establishments

Toronto Public Health is moving to have hookah smoking banned in licensed businesses.

Business owners say ban would unfairly target people of Middle Eastern and North African descent

Hookahs are used to smoke tobacco and non-tobacco herbal products. (Neil Herland/CBC)

Toronto Public Health is moving to have hookah smoking banned in licensed businesses. 

The city's Board of Health is set to consider a report from the health authority that argues that hookah smoking "poses health risks, such as heart and lung diseases, lung cancer and other respiratory problems."

According to Toronto's medical officer of health David McKeown, hookah smoking "is on the rise among young people," many of whom are under the mistaken impression that it is a safe form of smoking. 

Sometimes called waterpipes, hookahs are used to smoke tobacco and other herbal products commonly called shisha. They are popular among people from Middle Eastern and North African countries. 

Owners of establishments that cater to hookah smokers say a ban would be discriminatory to particular cultures. 

Younes Regragui owns The Desert Rose Cafe on Pape Avenue and says prohibition would stifle his business.

"It's part of our heritage and to come in and tell the community of Arabs that we're going to shut down the hookah places — I would consider that to be very unfair," he told CBC News. 

According to Public Health, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibits smoking tobacco in a hookah indoors in public spaces and at workplaces, but there is no ban on smoking non-tobacco products in Toronto establishments.

In a statement released Monday, Public Health said that researchers have "measured harmfully high levels of air pollutants in these businesses regardless of what is being smoked."

The Board of Health will consider the report at a meeting on June 1. 


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