Smoking hookah pipes in bars and restaurants will be banned in Toronto this spring. City council there voted overwhelmingly in favor of the ban, after a recommendation from the medical health officer. Ottawa Public Health is now looking at the issue very closely.  With a large number of hookah bars here, there are a lot of nervous people tonight wondering what this means for their businesses. Smoking tobacco in hookah bars has been banned for some time in Ontario, under the ‘Smoke Free Ontario’ Act but now Toronto has taken it one step further by banning herbal products inside the water pipes.

‘At the end of the day,’ said Toronto city councillor Joe Milevc, ‘smoking is smoking.’

In a vote of 34 to 3, Toronto council agreed to stop any hookah smoking in city-licensed businesses starting this spring. 

It is something Ottawa Public Health is very interested in pursuing here.

‘The smoke coming off herbal products has toxic metals,’ says Sherry Nigro, Manager of Health Promotion and Disease for Ottawa Public Health, ‘it has cancer-causing chemicals and high rates of carbon monoxide.  There’s solid evidence of the harmful effects of herbal products, too.’

There is growing concern, too, about the number of young people smoking hookahs.  Carol McDonald is with the Ottawa Council on Smoking or Health and congratulates Toronto on its ban.

‘There are myths among the youth that they are less hazardous than they seem,’ says Mcdonald, adding, ‘It would be a great day for public health if the hookah bars were shut down here.’

Local statistics show that 50 percent of young adults have used water pipes and about 1 in 5 teenagers.

‘I think there needs to be more research done to properly support the claims whether it is safe or not,’ says one young man outside the University of Ottawa.

‘I think if we regulate that,’ adds another, ‘then we should regulate all the other things that impact health in the same way.’

There are more than half a dozen places along Bank Street in the south end of Ottawa where one can smoke a hookah pipe.  Many of the owners though are afraid to speak on camera, worried about negative publicity. But over the phone, they talk about the herbal nature of their products and the cultural importance of their establishments.  For the city though, it comes down to a matter of health.

‘Toronto and a number of other municipalities have done same thing,’ says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, ‘and I would encourage our board of health to look at that as an option.’

Councillor Shad Qadri, the Chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, has written to Ontario’s Health Minister urging him to amend the Smoke Free Ontario Act to include the smoking of anything combustible including water pipes and marijuana.