Toronto council votes to ban hookah use at licensed lounges
City council has voted to ban the use of hookah pipes at all licensed establishments in Toronto.
Councillors voted 34-3 in favour of a motion filed by Toronto Coun. Joe Mihevc, which will take effect on April 1, 2016.
The matter was brought before council following a Board of Health recommendation that Toronto prohibit the use of hookah pipes at licenced establishments this year. The motion also recommends that council request the Ontario government pass legislation banning hookahs in all restaurants, bars and patios across the province.
“At the end of the day…smoking is smoking. Sometimes there’s tobacco in the hookah pipes. Sometimes it is other materials that are also dangerous to your health,” Mihevc said.
The motion is based on a report published in May, which recommended the ban to "address the health risks of hookah use." The report came after a Toronto Public Health consultation that included feedback from businesses, patrons, neighbouring businesses, and health centres.
The report initially asked city council to prohibit the use of hookahs in all licensed Toronto businesses by Oct. 1, but the matter was deferred to the Nov. 4 council meeting.
Only Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong and Coun. Jim Karyigiannis voted against the motion, arguing that it should be up to individuals to decide whether they frequent hookah lounges.
“It’s not harming anybody except the people that are in there, who are basically smoking their pipes and they know why they’re there,” Minnan-Wong said.
At the same time, Toronto Coun. Jim Karygiannis recommended another option: that the city create a new category under its municipal licensing code, which would allow hookah lounges to remain in operation.
Under Karygiannis' proposal, only non-tobacco products would be permitted, and no food or liquor would be sold on the premises. Minors would not be allowed in the lounges.
They would also have to display signs about the "harmful health effects of hookahs," Karygiannis wrote.
It is estimated that between 60 and 80 hookah lounges are currently operating in Toronto, but because the businesses are unlicensed, the city could not provide a specific number.
But the owners of these lounges are calling the move discriminatory.
“It’s so frustrating, not only for me, but all business owners who will lose their income,” Ashraf Hasouna, the owner of the Alexandra Café in Scarborough.
Hookahs, also known as waterpipes, are used to smoke tobacco or shisha, non-tobacco herbal products. Toronto Medical Officer of Health David McKeown said that, contrary to popular belief, the water in the pipe doesn't filter harmful chemicals or particles from the smoke.
Under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA), smoking tobacco in hookahs while inside a public space or workplace isn't allowed. The act, however, doesn't prohibit indoor smoking of shisha. McKeown says this "undermines" Ontario's smoke-free laws.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s John Musselman