Utah House committee OKs hookah ban

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A House committee approved a bill Thursday banning the use of hookahs and electronic cigarettes in public places, but gave a five-year exemption to hookah bars and e-cigarette shops.

"I think this is a very good place to start regulating, making sure we protect the public," said Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, the sponsor of HB245.

Currently, the hookahs and e-cigarettes fall into a gray area, since Utah's Indoor Clean Air Act only bans igniting tobacco. Hookahs heat tobacco and e-cigarettes vaporize a liquid with nicotine, but neither ignites tobacco.

Last had proposed banning hookahs and e-cigarettes in public places immediately, but met resistance from the Huka Bar & Grill and others.

The Murray hookah bar said the ban would shut down the business and put 90 people out of work. Last negotiated the 5-year exemption for the Huka Bar and e-cigarette shops, but the parties still weren't thrilled and pushed to make it permanent.

"I think people's civil liberties are going to be just as important in five years as they are today," said Nathan Porter, whose family owns the Huka Bar.

The committee, however, left the sunset in place and passed the bill on a 5-3 vote, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Teresa Garrett with the Department of Health said the five-year sunset is important because it lets the Legislature reassess the issue and see what new data might be available.