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Halifax hookah lounges say Bill 60 unfairly targets them

A row of hookah pipes in Aladdin Cafe. Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – A decision on Nova Scotia’s Bill 60 could mean disaster for small businesses in Halifax involved in the hookah, also  known as shisha, industry.

The bill aims to ban e-cigarettes in public places, flavoured tobacco and flavoured juice that is often used in e-cigarettes. It would also ban the use of hookah pipes in indoor public places. Hookah is a water pipe that can smoke flavoured tobacco, such as apple, mint and grape.

But Khalid Jawad, the owner of Aladdin Cafe in Bedford, said his hookah pipes do not use tobacco or nicotine. He said doing hookah is akin to a social experience.

“It’s something cultural. You get together with four or five people and one [hookah pipe]. After they eat, they spend time [together] and have fun with it,” he said.
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He said Bill 60 unfairly targets restaurants that serve hookah.

“You can buy cigarettes but for hookah, there’s no nicotine in it. It doesn’t hurt. You just get the taste of apple, grape, mint or lime,” Jawad said.

“If it’s not tobacco and there’s no nicotine in it and it doesn’t hurt [you], then why? Cigarettes you can buy from everywhere, even if they hide it, you can still buy the cigarettes and it’s full of tobacco. [With hookah], there’s no tobacco in it.”

He said his restaurant, which opened 11 months ago, is only open to those 19 and over.

Jawad said he invested $250,000 into his Bedford restaurant and estimates 70 per cent of his sales come from hookah purchases.

He is concerned that he may have to shut down his business if Bill 60 passes in its current form.

“If I’m losing my customers, losing money, why am I staying here?” he said, adding he may consider moving his business out of the province to get away from the legislation.

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It’s a similar story for 1001 Nights, another hookah lounge in Halifax.

Operations manager Mohammad Ranjbar said the business is not against the government crackdown on tobacco but rather what it encompasses.

“Our restaurant serves water pipes that are completely flavoured. There’s no tobacco and unlike the e-cigarettes that are being banned as well, there’s no nicotine in our products,” he said.

“The government needs to distinguish between people who are not serving tobacco products and nicotine. They cannot ban waterpipes as a whole because what we’re serving here is not directly linked to the act that’s being passed.”

Ranjbar, who was present at Monday’s law amendments meeting that discussed Bill 60, said he hopes there will be changes to the bill before it is passed.

“We’re fighting to have the products that do not have tobacco and do not have nicotine in them removed from the bill because it doesn’t make sense. It’s a tobacco act and our products, there’s no tobacco,” he said.

“That’s something we are fighting for. We’re fighting for small businesses. We’re fighting for the investments we’ve made in these restaurant. “

The restaurant has been open for a year and a half, and Ranjbar said it only recently broke even. He said that if the bill passes without alterations, the restaurant would be forced to shut down.

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Health minister Leo Glavine said the department is reviewing presentations made during the law amendments meeting and will come forward with changes to Bill 60.

He does not anticipate changing the ban on e-cigarettes in public places or the ban on flavoured tobacco but said the flavoured juice being used in e-cigarettes is up for debate.

“There were some very strong presentations that perhaps go a bit more cautiously than the original direction of the bill,” he said.

But it seems he is not sympathetic towards concerns of the local hookah industry, which were not consulted before the bill was drafted.

“Sometimes you have to look at the greater good that legislation is intended to accomplish.”

The bill goes to the Legislature Thursday.

**This story has been edited from its original version to clarify Bill 60 and when the bill would be going to the Legislature.

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