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The Oregon House passed a bill banning new hookah lounges this week. The measure now awaits Governor John Kitzhaber’s signature. The Republic reports that Gov. Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill.

The primary sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Carolyn Tomei, told the newspaper that the bill was changed in the last days of the state’s legislative session and she no longer supports it. She says the changes may allow new hookah lounges to open. Supporters of the bill say the change was made to allow a small number of cigar businesses to continue operation, and disagree that it would allow a significant growth of hookah lounges.

Currently 26 smoke shops are certified in Oregon, including both cigar and hookah lounges, which are allowed to have smoking indoors.  Tomei’s original bill would have added severe restrictions to the definition of a smoke shop to prevent any more hookah lounges from opening, while grandfathering in existing lounges. The bill would have allowed the opening of hookah bars that had submitted applications by Dec. 31, 2010. Under the last-minute changes to the bill, new hookah lounges would be banned, but the new restrictions would not be retroactive, allowing applications for hookah lounges to be filed until the day the governor signs the bill.

A spokeswoman for Oregon’s Public Health Division, Christine Stone, said there has been a small increase in applications for new smoke shops, but it is not known whether the rise is related to the legislation.

Oregon is not the only state considering banning hookah lounges. Hookahs, or water pipes, would be banned or limited under bills introduced in California and Connecticut. Some cities in California and New York have already taken these steps, while Boston and Maine no longer exempt hookah bars from their indoor-smoking laws.

Hookah bars feature water pipes that are used to smoke a blend of tobacco, molasses and fruit called shisha. Researchers say that contrary to the belief of many hookah smokers, the water in the pipe does not filter all the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted in a report that the smoke inhaled in a typical one-hour hookah session can equal 100 cigarettes or more. The WHO report also stated that even after it has been passed through water, the tobacco smoke in a hookah pipe contains high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.

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