To the Utah County Board of Health, hookah pipes are the same as cigarettes and cigars. The board unanimously voted Monday to adopt a policy treating hookah pipes like any other tobacco product, fully subject to the Indoor Clean Air Act. The policy will act as a placeholder. It’s expected the state Department of Health will issue an administrative rule declaring hookah pipes subject to Utah’s indoor-smoking law.
Joseph Miner, Utah County Health Department’s executive director, said the county is following the lead of Davis County, which recently enacted an identical policy.
“We’re doing what common sense tells us,” Miner said. “But until the state acts, we need some guidelines.”
The county took up the issue earlier this year when a Provo restaurant sought to open a hookah bar, but that application has since been withdrawn, said Terry Beebe, the county’s environmental health director.
Monday’s move was contrary to the position the board took in July. At that time, in the face of opposition from Huka Bar & Grill owner Nathan Porter, the board opted to wait for the state to act rather than draft its own regulation.
Attempts to contact Porter were unsuccessful Monday. His voice mail at the Huka Bar & Grill in Murray was not accepting new messages.
But Miner said Davis County’s action gave the county another option.
Hookah pipes date back an estimated 400 years to the Middle East and Turkey. In a hookah, scented tobacco placed in a container at the top of the pipe smolders under a lit charcoal briquette. Smokers use a mouthpiece on a hose to draw the smoke through water before inhaling it.
Hookah proponents say it does not fall under the Indoor Clean Air Act — which bans smoking inside public buildings, bars and restaurants — because the tobacco is not actually lit, nor do hookah pipes produce large amounts of smoke, as the water acts as a filter removing pollutants.
But county health officials say studies show hookahs expose smokers and others in the room to greater concentrations of carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals. The World Health Organization estimates that a 45-minute hookah-smoking session is the equivalent of smoking five packs of cigarettes.
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