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Utah lawmakers: Smoking hookah OK in bars and clubs

Publication Date: 9/13/2011
  • Author:Heather May
  • Publication:The Salt Lake Tribune

Utahns can continue to smoke tobacco from water pipes after all.

A legislative committee Tuesday requested that public health officials not enforce a controversial new rule that would have banned hookahs containing tobacco from indoor public spaces.

Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said the health department would comply with the request. It will have to work with lawmakers to decide whether the law should be changed to ban hookah smoking in public places, he said.

The health department had only recently amended rules for the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act to include hookahs or water pipes. Starting Monday, smoking hookahs containing tobacco was to be illegal in places like bars and clubs.

The Clean Air Act that bans smoking defines it as possession of “lighted tobacco.” The health department redefined “lighted tobacco” to mean tobacco under self-sustained combustion and “tobacco that is heated to a point of smoking.” That treats smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco the same as smoke emitted from a hookah, in which the tobacco is heated via charcoal.

But Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, leader of the Administrative Rules Review Committee, which heard three hours of testimony on the rule Tuesday, questioned whether the health department had the authority to change the rule. A legislative authority said it didn’t, while a state attorney for the health department said it did.

The health department presented peer-reviewed studies showing the amount of toxins emitted in secondhand smoke from a hookah was worse than cigarette smoking.

“We believe tobacco smoke is tobacco smoke,” said Gary Edwards, director of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

Supporters of hookah smoking presented their own evidence saying secondhand smoke is limited. There is no smoke billowing from the top, said Nathan Porter, owner of the Murray-based Huka Bar & Grill.

Lawmakers invited him to show how a water pipe works.