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SALT LAKE CITY — Hookah lounges and e-cigarette users could soon be going up in smoke following a proposed bill to the Utah legislature. The proposed bill has already become an early controversy for legislators on the first day of session.
House bill 245 would amend the Utah Indoor Clear Air Act to include tobacco products used in hookah pipes and electronic cigarettes, banning the use of these products in a public environment.
Since the debate over indoor hookah smoking has heated up, business is down for smoke shops and hookah lounges in the state. Opponents to the bill say hookah tobacco and e- cigarettes do not produce harmful second-hand smoke.
"If I burn a cigarette here, you can smell it from there," said Haydar Altalibi. "If I smoke (from a hookah), you behind me can't smell it."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bradley Last, said the science about the tobacco products has not determined whether the products are safe to use or not.
"I think the reality of that is that we don't have good data," said Rep. Last. "We don't have good information to show that e-cigarettes are not harmful — there's not good information to show that it is harmful or that they are harmful."
I think this is one of those things where we have to say, someone is inhaling nicotine and they are blowing it out in the air, even though you can't see it.
–Rep. Bradley Last
Although data cannot refute the alleged harmful affects, or lack thereof, the Utah Legislature is poised to determine if hookah tobacco and e-cigarettes should be amended into the state's Clean Air Act. The legislation was delayed last September after supporters of hookah lounges protested the product's inclusion.
However, legislators say, where there is smoke, there is probably fire.
"I think this is one of those things where we have to say, someone is inhaling nicotine and they are blowing it out in the air, even though you can't see it," Rep. Last said. "Is that a health risk we want to consider from a policy perspective?"
The ingredients of hookah tobacco are different from traditional cigarettes, with 0 percent tar and less than half of a percent of nicotine. However, the determining factor will not be what is inside the product, but what is coming out of a users' lungs and into public air.