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Edmonton reconsiders shisha smoking 6 months after ban

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2021-01-21 Natasha Riebe
a person sitting at a table in a restaurant: The City of Edmonton banned shisha or hookah smoking in public places last summer. © Michel Spingler/Associated Press The City of Edmonton banned shisha or hookah smoking in public places last summer.

Six months after Edmonton banned shisha smoking inside lounges, city administration will look at creating a separate business licence class to allow establishments to resume the activity. 

Council's community and public services agreed Wednesday to direct city staff to consider a new category for shisha lounges. 

Coun. Aaron Paquette said after the city banned shisha smoking in lounges in July, he heard a lot of feedback. 

He suggested in December the city develop a new kind of licence.

"This is something that's important to them and that they miss," Paquette said. "I would feel like I wasn't being responsive to the community if I didn't ask the question."

The four-councillor committee, chaired by Paquette and includes Jon Dziadyk, Andrew Knack and Mike Nickel passed the motion unanimously.

The proposed licence category would include the following conditions: 

  • no minors would be allowed in designated smoking areas
  • a physically separated smoking area from the rest of the premises
  • no food or drink service within the smoking area
  • mandatory signage identifying smoking areas
  • work to eliminate any second hand impact on employees

Before the committee voted, three advocates spoke in favour of allowing the activity inside lounges. 

Mahlet Belete, a manager at One XVII Lounge, argued that shisha smoking is a cultural activity that's been done for centuries in Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. 

"I don't believe people will stop consuming shisha just because shisha lounges are not operational," she said. "It will only drive people to consume within their homes."

Mohamad El-turk, with the Edmonton Hookah Cultural Committee, asked the city "to create some establishments and facilities where people can come and just smoke and practise their shisha enjoyment away from kids and away from their families."

El-turk's colleague Jarrett Campbell acknowledged the issue is complex. 

"Finding an exact solution or a nice, easy, bright line is probably not available," Campbell said. "But I think that on the merits, this would stand up because of those two reasons: It's herbal — it's not tobacco — and it's cultural."

'I used to be a smoker'

Two councillors who don't sit on the committee expressed concern. 

Coun. Scott McKeen pushed for the ban in past years but acknowledged that the topic is complicated. 

"I used to be a smoker; I get it," he said. "We have gone at this several times, in this committee, in previous years."

McKeen noted that shisha lounges were given allowances in the past to give them time to prepare for the ban. 

"My major concern will remain that we do not open up a bag of snakes," McKeen said. "Because restaurants and coffee shops in this city went through a tough, tough, period of transition in no smoking and many of them were deeply concerned." 

Later, new customers started going out to restaurants because there was no smoking, he said.  

Coun. Ben Henderson said some people might argue smoking cannabis and tobacco are cultural activities. 

"We've had this debate," Henderson said. "I think we're being naive if we think this doesn't open up this question again.

"These changes were difficult all the way along — going back 20 years — but we've adapted."

Administration will return to the committee to present bylaw changes likely within two months. A new business license category would have to go to a public hearing before being approved. 

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