Ontario court dismisses appeal of Toronto’s ban on hookahs at licensed businesses

The province’s top court has dismissed an appeal by several local hookah lounges in connection with the City of Toronto’s ban on the use of hookahs at licensed businesses.

In November 2015, Toronto city council voted 34 to 3 to prohibit the use of hookahs, water pipes used to smoke flavoured tobacco called shisha, in bars and restaurants.

After the decision, hookah lounge owners spoke out saying it could result in business closures. Multiple lounges challenged the bylaw at the Superior Court of Justice, but in 2016 a judge found the city had the authority to enact a ban. The businesses appealed the decision — saying the bylaw is beyond the City of Toronto’s jurisdiction, that it infringes on property and civil rights and that the ban conflicts with the province’s health and safety laws.

READ MORE: Hookah lounge owner worried Toronto ban will result in business closure

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In a decision released Tuesday, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled the City of Toronto bylaw’s purpose was to protect public health and safety and rejected the arguments put forward by the businesses.

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“There is no doubt that many hookah lounges will suffer economic harm as a result of the by-law and may no longer be economically viable, but it does not follow that this is the by-law’s purpose,” the judgement read.

The decision cited evidence from the City of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health that “hookah smoke was a health hazard to staff and patrons of establishments where it was smoked – regardless of what was smoked in the hookah.”

“[The Medical Officer of Health] noted that hookah smoking included some of the same carcinogenic chemicals associated with tobacco, and yet many wrongly assumed that hookah smoking was less harmful than smoking tobacco,” it read.

READ MORE: Toronto city council votes to ban the use of hookahs in licensed establishments

The court noted the lounges are licensed to sell food and can continue to sell shisha, but businesses can’t permit smoking on-site.

Meanwhile, the City of Toronto agreed to suspend the bylaw until a decision was made by the Court of Appeal of Ontario.

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Melissa Simone, manager of healthy environments with Toronto Public Health, told Global News in a statement Tuesday afternoon that since the bylaw was upheld by the court, tobacco enforcement staff will begin investigating compliance with the city’s hookah use prohibitions.

“The outcome of investigations can include issuing warnings, tickets and summonses and possibly initiating Licensing Tribunal hearings,” she wrote.

With files from Erica Vella

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