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Alberta government considering banning shisha in restaurants

EDMONTON – Smoking shisha – a tradition in the Middle East for centuries – has gained popularity in Canada over the past decade. But according to new research, the practice may be as, if not more, harmful than smoking cigarettes. And that’s why some would like to see it banned from Alberta restaurants.

Riad Ghazal, owner of Co-Co-Di’s in Edmonton, credits himself with opening the city’s first hookah bar in 2003. While smoking tobacco has been banned in the province’s restaurants since then, smoking shisha through a waterpipe is still allowed since the shisha that’s used is now supposed to be herbal and fruit-based.

Ghazal says he only serves it to customers who are over 18, and explains that it’s a large part of the Middle Eastern culture.

“Instead of eating the fruit, you smoke the fruits. You feel it as if you are eating the fruits, that why everybody loves it. I can’t imagine finishing my dinner at night without smoking the shisha.”

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But addiction psychiatrist Dr. Charl Els argues that even if there’s no tobacco, there are still many possible health risks when it comes to smoking shisha.

“The issue is not whether it’s tobacco or whether it’s herbal products, because technically, any agricultural product that you combust by burning it can release carcinogens or cancer forming substances.”

Aside from potentially causing lung cancer, low birth weight in pregnant women, and greater exposure to carbon monoxide than cigarettes – shisha users also run the risk of developing an infection, according to Els.

“Because those using the waterpipe wouldn’t necessarily clean the mouth piece between different users,” he says. “So things like meningitis, tuberculosis, hepatitis and a few other infectious disease can be conveyed when people share the waterpipe.”

Els also believes smoking shisha can serve as a gateway for youth to start smoking cigarettes, and thinks banning it from restaurants in Alberta would be a step in the right direction.

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Alberta’s health minister Fred Horne explains the government is currently looking at that, drafting legislation on the subject as part of the province’s Tobacco Reduction Strategy.

“I realize there is a cultural dimension to it, and there are also businesses that are impacted by these sorts of decisions,” he says. “We’ll take a close look at it, present the legislation in the fall session and there will be lots of time for consultation after that.”

Ghazal’s Co-Co-Di restaurant is one of 30 restaurants across the province that would be affected if the government does ban shisha.

You can read some of the recent research on waterpipe smoking below:

With files from Jenna Bridges, Global News
Follow @TrishKozicka

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