SALT LAKE CITY -- Hookahs could go the way of cigarettes, cigars and pipes if Utah health officials approve a ban on smoking the heated tobacco in popular bars and other public places.
Health officials argue the secondhand smoke from hookahs is just as dangerous as that from other tobacco products, which state law already prohibits in public indoor spaces.
"There's no safe secondhand smoke, and some recent studies show even minimal amounts of secondhand smoke can be harmful," said Utah Department of Public Health spokesman Steve Hadden.
Two Utah counties have banned hookah smoking in public, although neither county had any businesses that offered hookahs at the time of their bans. Other public health officials have asked the state for a clarification about whether smoking hookahs, in which tobacco is mixed with flavorings, violates the indoor smoking laws.
Utah is home to a number of bars and restaurants that offer hookahs, however, primarily in Salt Lake City and surrounding suburbs. They include sushi bars, Middle Eastern restaurants and social clubs.
In its proposed rule, the health department acknowledges that the ban could "severely affect" businesses where hookah smoking is a primary attraction.
Nathan Porter, the owner of the Huka Bar in a Salt Lake City suburb, said the ban would potentially ruin his business.
"We're called the Huka Bar," said Porter. "People come here knowing we have hookahs or they're with their friends who smoke hookah."
A public hearing is scheduled for the hookah ban Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City.
During debates last year in Davis County, which was the first county to ban hookahs, health director Lewis Garrett said hookah smoke is still smoke that can be harmful to people.
"One of the reasons this is so prevalent, is it smells good," Garrett said. "It doesn't smell like tobacco. It smells like incense or something flavorful. And I think there's a misconception that this isn't nearly as harmful as cigarettes because it's filtered through the water and it smells nice."