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The Utah Department of Health wants to cork hookah pipes at least in public places.
The health department has crafted new rules under the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act that redefine "lighted tobacco" so that it would include many hookah products.
"Hookah, if it contains tobacco, according to this [proposed rule] would be prohibited," said Steve Hadden, a health program specialist in the department's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
The department is seeking public comment on the rule change through June 14, including a public hearing on Monday. The rule could go into effect June 21.
Since January 2009, the state has banned smoking in bars and clubs. Some local public health officials believe inhaling the mixture of tobacco and flavorings used in hookah pipes violates the law's intent, and had asked the state health department for clarification. Meanwhile, the Utah County and Davis County health departments banned hookahs under the existing rules.
Nathan Porter said the proposed new state rule would put his Murray-based Huka Bar & Grill and Huka Lounge out of business, affecting 90 people ranging from staff to the people who deliver kegs and would jeopardize the companies' $2 million in sales.
"That's going to bankrupt my family, that's going to put 90 employees in hardship. These are college kids, these are single moms," he said.
Because his bar was open years before the state banned indoor smoking, he argues, his company should be allowed to continue under today's rules. Or, he wants to become a private club with the ability to allow hookah pipes.
"When you go to the Huka Bar, you probably are going to be smoking hookah. Even if you're not, you're probably OK with [it]," he said.
The health department acknowledges that businesses that allow the use of "heated tobacco" will be "severely affected," but said protecting people from hookah's secondhand smoke is more important.
Public health officials fear hookah pipes appeal to young adults, attracted by flavors like apple-cinnamon and chocolate. And the American Lung Association and the World Health Organization have raised concerns about the health effects of water pipe smoking on the smoker, saying it carries similar risks of addiction, cancers and heart disease as cigarette smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says secondhand smoke from hookahs poses risks because it contains smoke from the tobacco and the charcoal used in the hookah.
Hookahs originated in ancient Persia and India and have been used for centuries.
Comment on the Indoor Clean Air Act
The Utah Department of Health will take public comment on its proposed changes to the rules for enforcing the act from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday at its offices, 288 N. 1460 West, Room 125, Salt Lake City.
To comment • email firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are due by 5 p.m. on June 14.