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SALT LAKE CITY — Too many questions and concerns over a bill that would ban the smoking of e-cigarettes and hookah pipes in public places prompted a panel of lawmakers Monday to put the legislation on hold.
HB245, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Last, R-Hurricane, would amend the state's Indoor Clean Air Act to define the use electronic cigarettes and hookah pipes as smoking, therefore prohibiting their use in public places.
Public testimony before the House Government Operations Standing Committee was largely divided between the health risks of using e-cigarettes and hookah pipes and the rights of adults who are made aware of the risks to use the products.
But some lawmakers said they had reservations about a bill that would effectively put hookah bars out of business when the data over health risks is unclear. Representatives of the Huka Bar and Grill in Murray said the bill would put 90 people out of work.
Other lawmakers said they needed more time to study the proposal.
Some opponents took issue with the bill treating e-cigarettes the same as hookah pipes.
Jecinda Ross, of West Jordan, said she was a cigarette smoker for many years but has quit thanks to e-cigarettes. "I've been smoke free since August 2010. I have no desire to smoke any more," Ross said.
But others maintained that the use of either product in public places is not prohibited under state law because the state's clean air act bans combustion of tobacco and e-cigarettes and hookahs do not burn material.
Last summer, the Utah Department of Health adopted a rule banning the use of hookah and e-cigarettes in public places but has not enforced the rule awaiting legislative action on the issue.
Bob Wall, attorney for the city of South Jordan, said municipalities need consistent state policy to regulate the use of e-cigarettes and hookah pipes.
"Cities may be preempted from dealing with this issue themselves," Wall said.
Two physicans representing anti-tobacco groups said the state needs to get in front the issue, even as the health impacts of hookah and e-cigarettes are still being researched.
Dr. Kevin Nelson, representing Pediatricians Against Secondhand Smoke, said Last's bill is "'better safe than sorry' legislation."
"In Utah, we have no children to spare. We have no families to spare. We have no adults to spare," he said.
But Nathan Porter, whose family owns Huka Bar and Grill, said children are not allowed in his establishment so arguments about the effects on children do not apply. That said, Porter said the use of hookah should not be permitted in public places where children congregate such as schools or playgrounds.
But adults who understand the health risks of using a hookah should have the right to to choose whether they want to patronize his family's establishment, Porter said. "I want adults making adult informed decisions."
Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake, who said he owns a hookah for personal use, said he opposes HB245 because it overreaches into personal choices.
"I can make decisions about businesses I frequent," he said. "I don't need the government to infringe on that right."