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Medical officer of health asks city council to bar hookahs

Dr. David McKeown wants Toronto council to prohibit hookah smoking in licensed establishments on Oct. 1.
May 25, 2015
By Betsy Powell

The Medical Officer of Health is urging council to prohibit hookah smoking in establishments licensed by the city of Toronto.

Dr. David McKeown is recommending council ban the use of hookahs, or water pipes, effective Oct. 1. The Board of Health will consider his report at next Monday’s monthly meeting.

“Using a hookah to smoke any substance poses health risks, such as heart and lung diseases, lung cancer and other respiratory problems to users and those exposed to second-hand smoke, including employees,” Dr. David McKeown said in a news release.

Hookahs, or water pipes, are used to smoke tobacco or non-tobacco herbal products using charcoal to heat the substance.

“The Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA) bans smoking tobacco in a hookah in indoor public places and workplaces, but there is currently no law prohibiting indoor non-tobacco hookah use in Toronto establishments,” the release said.

“Hookah use in public places undermines the success of the SFOA and other smoke-free laws because it contributes to the social acceptability of smoking in public. This change is an important step toward creating safer and healthier spaces for residents.”

Board of Health chairman Joe Mihevc said the city is stepping in to regulate because the province has declined to do so.

“It will be treated like cigarettes. It doesn’t make them illegal it just says you cannot do them in a public place, or at work, or any place we are able to licence establishments,” he said.

“It’s our responsibility, as public health people, to protect peoples’ health, both first hand and second hand. This is not an innocent activity.” The councillor estimates there are dozens of establishments in Toronto currently offering hookah use.

The licensing and standards committee will consider the report at its meeting in June, then the report goes to council in July.

“It’s very wrong of them to come up with decisions like this,” said Younes Regragui, who opened the Desert Rose Restaurant and Hookah Lounge on Pape Ave. last August. The establishment offers only nicotine-free, herbal-flavoured hookahs, he said.

“We need to be heard, we need to be involved in any decision, to be fair to us.”