It’s been banned in some of Canada’s largest cities, so will Edmonton soon follow suit?
While hookah lounges are a growing trend in Edmonton, the city’s Public Safety Compliance Team – whose mandate is public safety – has recently raised some concerns with the establishments.
“We found that there’s some public health issues as far as these hookah lounges. You have these pipes that emanate smoke,” said Acting Sgt. Joe Allan, a member of the Edmonton Police Service who’s also part of the compliance team.
“You’ve got the second-hand smoke, which is an issue.”
The use of hookah pipes in public places was banned in Toronto in April 2016. Ottawa’s ban came into effect on Thursday.
READ MORE: Toronto city council votes to ban the use of hookahs in licensed establishments
According to the Public Safety Compliance Team, Edmonton has about 40 venues where hookah is allowed, both with and without a liquor licence.
The compliance team’s main concern is surrounding the health of those who frequent the venues but minors in hookah lounges and, in some cases, the use of illegal tobacco, are also on the team’s radar. Violence has also been an issue in some cases.
“It’s everything. At the end of the day, we want to see safe venues,” Allan said.
Riad Ghazal is the owner of Co Co Di on Jasper Avenue, the first restaurant to offer hookah in Edmonton.
“It’s fruit molasses. This is a tradition in Lebanon, (in the) Middle East. They go after dinner or after lunch, they go and smoke shisha,” he said.
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While he offers shisha smoking at the Mediterranean restaurant, Ghazal said he follows the smoking bylaw and does not allow minors to smoke. And only those who order food can smoke shisha.
He said his livelihood depends on people being able to smoke shisha and without it, he’d be forced to close his doors.
“If they take the shisha, they put us on the street,” he said. “People – they come, they eat food and smoke. If there’s no shisha, they don’t care for the food, if it’s good or not. They want to eat, then smoke.”
READ MORE: Alberta government adds menthol to flavoured tobacco ban
Coun. Scott McKeen said while there’s no plan right now to ban the practice, there could be one in the near future.
“This adds a complexity if we believe in the level playing field. Why should hookah be allowed when in other restaurants and bars people can’t smoke? The argument has been that it’s not tobacco but I’m not completely convinced that it’s never tobacco,” he said.
“I think eventually it’s going to happen and maybe what we need to do is in one of these situations is give them fair warning.”
Earlier this year, a central Edmonton hookah bar, which was operating illegally, was the scene of a shooting on New Year’s Day. It was shut down by the city.