Hookah crackdown too much: Owner

SEE VIDEO http://www.ottawasun.com/2012/02/11/hookah-crackdown-too-much-owner

A downtown business owner says the public health department’s crackdown on tobacco is warranted, but not if it’s intended to stop all forms of smoking.

“I think they’re going a step too far. It’s becoming Communist within a country like Canada,” said Charbel Karakouzian.

He co-owns the Garlic Corner shawarma restaurant in the Byward Market, which offers hookah or water-pipe smoking.

Unlike many shisha bars which use tobacco and claim it’s herbal, he says his product is entirely natural, and those places have given bonafide businesses like his a bad rep.

“I would support closing down these places, giving them fines, shutting them down from business, like the alcohol and gaming commission do with bars,” Karakouzian said.

Herbal or not, Karakouzian may be outnumbered.

An Ottawa-based tobacco expert wants public health officials to curb the growing popularity of hookah smoking by following the lead of other cities.

“Vancouver and other municipalities have banned smoking of anything — not just tobacco — in restaurants, bars and cafes,” said Rob Cunningham, a lawyer and senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society.

“You do not have any water-pipe, hookah smoking in Vancouver. We shouldn’t have any in Ottawa.”

At the board of health meeting on Feb. 6, a three-year clean-air strategy was given the thumbs up.

The board approved a recommendation to ban smoking on all city property, including outdoor festivals, fruit and vegetable markets, parks, patios and beaches.

Businesses offering hookah or shisha, however, allow smoking indoors and are excluded from the ban.

A long-time public health advocate is looking to see the playing field levelled.

“If the city prohibits smoking on patios, surely it isn’t right to allow the same harmful chemicals to be inhaled inside, just because the tobacco or herbs being smoked are heated instead of lit,” said Janice Forsythe.

“To paraphrase an old adage, where there’s smoke, there’s health damage.”

Local health officials are recommending hookah bars fall under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act.

“From the perspective of regulating it, there are a few technical elements that need to be worked on at the provincial level and at the federal level,” said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy.

There’s a misconception, Cunningham says, about hookah being safe.

“Often, there’s a claim that there’s no tobacco in the mixture, but there really is. And consumers want that, because there’s nicotine, and they want nicotine to satisfy their addiction,” said Cunningham.

At the Garlic Corner, “we’ve never had tobacco products. The inspectors come here all the time,” said Karakouzian.

The city’s media relations department did not respond to the Sun’s request to confirm this information.

@ottawasunkroche

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