City committee moves to ban shisha consumption in Edmonton lounges

Click to play video: 'Edmonton moves closer towards prohibiting the public consumption of shisha' Edmonton moves closer towards prohibiting the public consumption of shisha
WATCH ABOVE: It's a form of smoking that is still allowed in public places in Edmonton but now the city wants to restrict the use of shisha consumption. Vinesh Pratap has the details – Jul 4, 2018

Dozens of lounges that allow customers to smoke shisha or hookah pipes in Edmonton may soon no longer be able to offer the product following a vote at city hall on Wednesday.

Council’s community service committee voted to have city staff come up with bylaw changes that would prohibit public consumption of the herbal product, which is often mixed with various flavours.

“We had evidence finally before us that the health effects are similar to that of tobacco,” said Scott McKeen, who chairs the committee. McKeen added that he’s seen reports of some shisha establishments using illicit tobacco in their product as well and pointed to several Middle Eastern countries, where shisha smoking originates from, who have banned public consumption of the product.

READ MORE: Will Edmonton impose a hookah ban?

Watch below: In December 2016, Vinesh Pratap filed this report about concerns being raised in Edmonton over hookah lounges?

Click to play video: 'Concerns grow about health issues at Edmonton hookah lounges' Concerns grow about health issues at Edmonton hookah lounges
Concerns grow about health issues at Edmonton hookah lounges – Dec 2, 2016

“They’ve started to ban it because they realize that there’s danger and there’s harm to shisha and they don’t want to socialize shisha and model it for young children,” said Palwasaj Khan, a health policy promotion intern at the Canadian Cancer Society.

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“It was used by elderly men as a form of communication, as a form of socialization and it was non-flavoured, so it had tobacco but it was non-flavoured,” Khan said. “What started to happen is that in the 1990s, flavoured shisha was used… children started using it because as we know, even for tobacco, whenever it’s flavoured, there’s more youth that get involved.”

If the public consumption of shisha is eventually prohibited in Edmonton, the move is expected to impact about 44 establishments, according to Councillor Jon Dziadyk, who does not sit on the committee but said he opposes the ban.

“I think that shisha is being smoked in safe environments where people understand what they’re getting into before,” he said. “Comparing it too much to cigarette and tobacco smoke is not an accurate description. In fact, when there used to be smoking… if you were a non-smoker, you couldn’t really enter a coffeeshop without being exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke.

Khan said shisha smoke, both with and without tobacco, contains many of the same dangerous chemicals as cigarette smoke.

“We know that if kids start using shisha, they’ll start using cigarettes,” she said, adding she rejects the argument shisha smoking is a cultural practice that shouldn’t be so heavily regulated.

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“The way that it’s being used now is not the use that it was traditionally used even back in Lebanon,” she said.

“The Middle Eastern community has said that they don’t support shisha because they understand that it’s dangerous and they don’t want their children to be exposed to it.”

Riad Ghazal is the owner of Co Co Di, a restaurant on Jasper Avenue that offers the use of shisha pipes to its customers. He said he was the first entrepreneur to offer the service at an Edmonton restaurant in 2001 and it’s since become popular at other restaurants.

“It’s a tradition in Lebanon,” he said, adding he mixes the product with fruit molasses, not tobacco. “When you have dinner, after dinner, you smoke shisha. That’s how I brought it to Edmonton…. I was the only one until 2008.”

If council votes to approve a bylaw amendment outlawing the practice in restaurants, Ghazal said he’ll likely be put out of business and probably relocate to another city.

READ MORE: Alberta government considering banning shisha in restaurants

McKeen suggested while he understands some businesses could be impacted by a shisha ban, he thinks there are other factors equally as important to their survival.

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“[That’s the] exact same argument from whenever it was… around the smoking bylaw — that some bars, pubs, coffeeshops would be put out of business because of a smoking prohibition,” he said. “I’m not saying that never happened, but I think we would expect that a restaurant, lounge, coffeeshop would be competing on other services.

“I think we’ve been led to believe over the years that this was this sort of benign herbal product, and also a bit skittish because of cultural tradition around it so regulators — council, the province — kind of turned its gaze away.”

Ghazal suggested politicians are being hypocritical by trying to ban the public smoking of shisha.

“How could they ban it and they are legalizing marijuana?” he asked.

A report by city staff on the issue is expected to be prepared by Oct. 3.

–With files from Global News’ Vinesh Pratap

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