Shisha bar owners in Edmonton are left wondering what’s next now that city council has officially banned smoking shisha in public venues.
Council had been discussing the move first in 2018, before passing it as a new bylaw in the summer of 2019.
Now, one year later, as of July 1, tobacco-free and nicotine-free shisha can no longer be smoked in Edmonton establishments.
“It means the end of my business,” said Mohamad El-Turk, the owner of Sultan Palace Restaurant. “This is the foundation of my business.”
El-Turk said that while his business, which he has run in Edmonton for 14 years, also serves food, 70 per cent of his sales come from shisha.
“After today, I think this is going to be the end of it. This is going to be the end of Sultan,” he said.
“We’re asking for our rights to practise our culture too. This is culture,” El-Turk said. “I acknowledge the aspects of the health issues of it.”
Mayor Don Iveson said that while he recognizes there is culture behind the practice, council made the decision because of those health issues.
“Shisha lounges represent a cultural practice on the one hand, held against the tension of the public health challenges — with indoor smoke from a public health point of view and from an occupational health and safety point of view,” Iveson said in an interview on June 17.
“Council has fairly consistently come down on a public health and occupational health and safety principle there.”
Iveson suggested the businesses look into the city’s relief grant program due to the disruption and the “pivot” they’re being asked to make.
Another shisha owner who spoke to Global News said he worked with the city previously to install filtration systems, but now wonders why that work was even necessary.
“When I opened this place, the city came here and asked me to put ventilation,” said Khaldoun Hakima, the owner of Mazati Mediterranean Cuisine. “This ventilation cost me $65,000. And after one year, they started talk about banning the shisha.”
He said he isn’t sure whether his customers will keep returning without the option to smoke.
Avnish Nanda, a lawyer who is working with over two dozen bars in the city to try and help them find a way to keep running, said that he believes the city should have done more to work with the owners prior to the ban.
“Cities across the world have managed to balance the health concerns with allowing people to practise their cultural rights,” Nanda said.
He said many Edmonton clubs are hoping to keep running, possibly as private establishments.
“We’ve been working and reaching out to city councillors — people in administration — to find out a middle-ground approach,” Nanda said.
Nanda said he’s hoping to present a plan for a privatized shisha club system to council in September.