City committee eyes ban on hookah bars

“That’s the big step, that’s the big ask and that’s the ultimate goal..."

A recent hearing to discuss the future of hookah bars was turned on its head by unhappy Toronto city councillors who, rather than debate the merits of licencing the establishments, talked about banning them outright.

Members of city council’s Licencing and Standards Committee met October 19 to discuss a staff report recommending hookah bars be licensed.

Committee members were unhappy, however, that report that failed to address the health effects of hookah smoking, and referred the matter back to the City Hall Executive Director Tracy Cook, who will submit a further report to the Licensing and Standards Committee in the first quarter of 2013.

Smoking a hookah is radically different than smoking a cigarette in that sessions with the water pipe can last up to an hour, as opposed to the five or 10 minutes taken to finish a cigarette.

During a session a hookah smoker would have inhaled enough smoke to equal the consumption of 100 or more cigarettes, the report states.

Despite the health implications however, Cook told the committee that banning the practice, while desirable, is not so simple.

“We did look at the opportunity of a ban and what that would do to address the issue,” Cook said.

“That’s the big step, that’s the big ask and that’s the ultimate goal, perhaps, we need to take the steps to get there. So what we’re stuck with now is what do we do with the places that we have that have a regulation. We don’t necessarily know where they are.”

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, (Ward 38), said councillors have heard that refrain before.

“When we said we should ban people from selling puppies from puppy mills, our staff said you can’t do that and when we said you should stop the slaughter of sharks by banning shark fin soup our staff told us you shouldn’t do that,” De Baeremaeker said.

“You know what? We’ve got a pretty good track record going our way and not (City of Toronto) staff’s way.”

Cook says that the committee isn’t against the ban, but that the issue needs to be monitored closely.

“We’re not saying we’re against the ban. What I’m saying is the issue of a ban on non-tobacco shisha is a matter that’s going to be continued to be monitored from a public health perspective,” Cook said.

“That’s where that resides, so certainly that’s not my position here today for the work in that regard. Our recommendation here is for us to consider establishing licensing.”

A hookah lounge is a place where you can sit and enjoy shisha, a tobacco-based mixture that has been soaked in honey or molasses and is available in different fruity flavours.. A hookah itself is a device made up of four parts; a head, a body, a water bowl and one or more hoses.

Hookah smoking is a concern because it is found that younger people are more tempted by sweet candy-like substances.

It is also seen that hookah bars are not counted under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act so it provides an easier alternative for young teens that are not of legal age to smoke cigarettes.

A survey in 2006 called the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS) found that four per cent of young teens and adults have tried waterpipe smoking and one per cent had used waterpipe smoking in the last 30 days.

Michael Perley director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco told the committee that hookah smoking is very available to teens.

“Ease of access makes hookah smoking more appealing to young people. The use of hookahs in public places is not covered under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and hookah establishments offer an alternative to young people who may not be old enough to buy tobacco products or have access to bars and nightclubs.

“At a recent provincial meeting in Ontario, tobacco enforcement officers noted that the average age of customers frequenting hookah cafes is 15 years.”

Perley said a lot of young people are uninformed on the health effects of shisha and hookah smoking.

“Many young people who are the primary users think somehow that this is harmless because the smoke is passed through a water bowl and because some product is without tobacco in it,” Perley said.

“So they think that smoking tobacco based shisha is dangerous and addictive because of the nicotine in it, but non tobacco based shisha is somehow not dangerous, which is incorrect.”

Cook says that without regulations nothing can be done to control the situation.

“This is the struggle and I understand Mr. Perley’s point, is it legitimized? Is it regularized? It’s happening and they’re popping up in a number of locations,” Cook said.

“Minors can be in the premises, there’s no licensing around any of the regulations around them because they’re not required to be licensed.”