Edmonton set to ban shisha lounges next year

Shisha and hookah lounges in Edmonton likely have one more year to re-invent themselves or be at risk of closing. 

City council’s community and public services committee agreed Wednesday to ban shisha smoking in public establishments by July 1, 2020. 

Councillors say hookah smoking — even herbal shisha —  is a detriment to health. Coun. Scott McKeen noted that police have found tobacco at lounges in the past, which is illegal. The city also doesn’t allow cigarettes, cigars, vaping or cannabis in many public places. 

In an amended bylaw, city administration had proposed a full ban by January 2021. 

It suggested immediate restrictions in the transition period, which would have kept people under 18 years old from entering the premises and required owners to display clear signs indicating the nature of the smoking establishment. 

The manager at Saraha Palace in Castle Downs, Omar Hagar, attended the meeting to ask the committee for a year’s grace period with no restrictions on letting minors attend family-oriented events. 

The committee agreed.

“We are proud to be a family-friendly restaurant, which is a big reflection in our culture and community,” Hagar said. 

On its website, Sahara Palace is described as a contemporary-style Lebanese eatery offering kebabs, shawarma, hummus and a place to hold events.

He told the committee his restaurant has weddings and other private events booked until 2020, which allows shisha smoking within the contract. 

“No restrictions — that was a benefit to this,” Hagar said after the committee agreed. “The first year after the ban will probably be the hardest.” 

Omar Hagar, manager at the Sahara Palace restaurant, said staying in business a year from now will be a gamble. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Les Hagen, executive director for Action on Smoking and Health, said the committee’s decision was a positive step. 

“I think the hookah bars today came forward with a reasonable alternative and I think council decided to accept that alternative,” Hagen said after the meeting. 

Industry, health officials and the city had discussed a timeline and the city conducted a survey to get feedback on banning smoking indoors. 

Of the 3,179 responses, 33 per cent supported an immediate ban while 36 per cent said it was ok to wait 18 months and 8 per cent wanted to wait four to five years. 

Hagar insisted that his establishment uses traditional herbs in their shisha — no tobacco. 

Hagen said herbal shisha burning at a low temperature still exposes people to toxic chemicals, similar to second-hand smoke from tobacco. 

Coun. Jon Dziadyk said banning shisha will affect small businesses, noting that some had spent thousands of dollars installing HVAC systems for better air quality. 

“They’re gathering spaces,” Dziadyk said. “I would rather us go down the path of regulating air quality more without the prohibition of the shisha smoking.” 

David Aitkin, the city’s manager of community standards, said as legislation changes, “sometimes there are those economic impacts.” 

Hagar said the restaurant is a community hub that employs recent immigrants. 

“We help them out, help them get even better with their English as well.” 

The committee asked administration to return July 16 with the changes. 

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