The Toronto Board of health is worried about the growing trend of indoor waterpipe smoking.
Dr. Roberta Ferrence, a senior scientific advisor for The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit says, smoking hookahs indoors is dangerous.
“Basically everyone knows you don’t barbecue indoors but
you’re [also] burning charcoal with hookahs. Some people may have 20 or 30 hookahs going at once and that means there are 20 or 30 charcoals going off at once,” Dr. Ferrence said.
Waterpipe or hookah smoking is a growing trend in Toronto and across Ontario. It can be done with tobacco or herbal chemicals. Dr. Ferrence says both chemicals are equally harmful to the body.
“Burning charcoal produces very high levels of carbon monoxide and sometimes people will pass out and go to the hospital. That’s about three times as much as you have in a café where people are smoking cigarettes and you also get a lot of particulates which are small pieces from the burning of tobacco,” Dr. Ferrence said.
“About 75 percent to 90 percent of the particulates are from the charcoal and these particulates are the ones that get inside your lungs and cause cancer and heart disease problems.”
According to The Smoke Free Ontario Act, indoor public places are prohibited from using any tobacco products indoors. The act does not include herbal chemicals. Countries, including Syria, Lebanon and Dubai, that use the hookah for traditional purposes have banned it’s use indoors. In Canada, Alberta is the only province to ban indoor hookah smoking with tobacco and herbal products.
In 2012 The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU) conducted a study to measure air quality in Toronto hookah cafés and on their patios.
“We found that every single café that we measured there had nicotine in the air and at least half of them at high levels.” Dr. Ferrence said. “Once it’s up in the air it combines with something called nitrite acid, which you find in a lot of indoor locations and forms things that cause cancer. It’s toxic. People usually use it longer, so if it’s a cigarette you may have one cigarette an hour and you smoke it in ten minutes. With hookahs, people are smoking all night. They might go and smoke for three hours so they’re getting exposed to a lot more smoke and inhaling a lot more.”
Sameh Hawash, owner of Roxy Lounge, says hookah smoking is harmless.
“We’ve never heard someone smoke a cigarette or hookah and kill someone or get in an accident. There are more issues that are riskier than this one,” Hawash said.
Hawash only offers herbal hookahs at his lounge.
“It’s not about smoking, people can do that at home but … it’s a socialized atmosphere for people,” Hawash said.
People of all ages are using the hookah. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey revealed that more students are using the hookah than a regular cigarette. 10 percent of students in grades seven to 12 are using the hookah, with an increase of 19 per cent in grade 12.
On March 24, the Toronto Public Health’s Youth Health Action Network (YHAN), which tackles emerging health issues that impact Toronto’s youth, spoke at the Board of Health meeting about the hookah-smoking trend.
“We’ve actually been working on the issue of waterpipe smoking for the past year and whether it’s prevalent amongst youth,” YHAN member Meena Bhardwaj said. “We wanted the board to look into the use in Toronto by youth. We went to this meeting so that the board could hear our views about water pipe smoking.”
Bhardwaj has smoked a hookah before but stopped after joining YHAN. She believes indoor hookah smoking should be banned.
“I think if they decide to ban water pipe smoking indoors it will impact youth because a lot of youth are using it socially and it’s glamourized in the media,” Bhardwaj said. “I mean Drake has two music videos where the hookah is being used indoors.
“Also it’s being used at frosh events at U of T and Ryerson and if they do decide to regulate it and put on packages a list of ingredients, that impacts the kids.”
Reema Khoury, 21, an English major at the University of Toronto who smokes five to six times a week using both herbal and tobacco at hookah bars, says indoor hookah smoking should not be banned.
“I think its ludicrous to be honest. That’s part of my culture, I’m Arab,” Khoury said. “We do this at family gatherings and when we go out. I’m completely against the ban but if they want to put rules and regulations for the shisha then I’m total for it.”
The Board of Health adapted the recommendations from The Ontario Tobacco Research with amendments on March 24.