Hookah bars threatened by smoking legislation

Halifax establishments worried about consequences of Bill 60

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Assembling a hookah at Ottoman Cafe on Spring Garden Road. Photo: Ameya Charnalia

The survival of some Halifax hookah bars is in question after the province passed a bill that extended its ban on smoking in indoor public places last week.

The manager of 1001 Nights, a hookah bar on Brenton Place in downtown Halifax, says the business will close its doors next spring because of the legislation.

“The hookah sales are 70 per cent of our sales. Without it, it’s all losses,” said Mohammad Ranjbar, operations manager at 1001 Nights.

Ranjbar found out about Bill 60 through the news. He appeared at the Legislative Assembly’s law amendments committee on Nov. 5 to talk about hookah bars being disproportionately affected by the ban.

Mohammad Ranjbar says the government needs to encourage, not target small businesses through legislation like Bill 60. Photo: Ameya Charnalia
Mohammad Ranjbar says the government needs to encourage, not target small businesses through legislation like Bill 60. Photo: Ameya Charnalia

Bill 60 essentially brings e-cigarettes and vaporizers under existing smoke-free legislation. It prevents minors from purchasing either product, and outlaws burning or heating any products for inhalation in public places, even if there is no tobacco present in it.

The law would apply to hookah bars, says a provincial spokesperson.

“These establishments are essentially bars or restaurants where waterpipe smoking is a featured element,” said Tony Kiritsis, Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

The ban will come into effect on May 31, 2015.

A Liberal majority easily passed the vote last Thursday — the same day 1001 Nights management decided they will serve their last customer in April 2015.

A dozen employees at the establishment will lose their jobs.

‘If you don’t smoke, don’t come to the smoking establishment’

“They are taking away a great experience away from people,” said Mohsen A.P. Aghdan, an employee at Ottoman Cafe on Spring Garden Road.

Unlike 1001 Nights, the Ottoman Cafe serves both alcohol and hookahs to its customers. Initially serving a predominantly Middle Eastern clientele, the hookah bar got a liquor licence in June 2013 when more Canadian and international students started showing up.

“I see people of all cultures come in here […]. I’ve gotten to meet so many people from everywhere,” said Mikalya Joudery, 20, a student at the Nova Scotia Community College.

Hookah smoking is “something you would do socially,” said Joudery. “I don’t think it’s something you could get addicted to.”

Nathaniel Stockley, 33, considers the ban “ridiculous.” A regular at Ottoman Cafe, he thinks coming to hookah bars is a matter of personal choice.

“If you don’t smoke, don’t come to the smoking establishment,” he said.

“I don’t force people to come in here and breathe shisha. They choose to come in here,” said Ilya Kravtsov, a manager at Ottoman Cafe.

He finds it absurd that the legislation lumps e-cigarettes and hookahs together, mainly because hookahs aren’t portable like e-cigarettes. Treating them the same “is taking it a bit too far,” said Kravtsov.

Curious onlookers have often walked into Ottoman Cafe to inquire what’s going on inside, said Aghdan. He’s found himself explaining how hookah works to inquisitive strangers on multiple occasions.

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The Ottoman Cafe serves alcohol in addition to hookah. Photo: Ameya Charnalia

A hookah is a waterpipe traditionally used to smoke a mixture of tobacco and molasses in many parts of the Middle East and South Asia. It’s an important cultural pastime for many Middle Eastern students in Canada.

Gateway

However customers such as Stockley do consider hookah smoking a gateway to tobacco use for minors — an issue repeatedly brought up during the debate on Bill 60.

“It’s something that’s kind of cool and tastes good and is easily accessible,” said Jacob, 30, a Halifax nurse smoking hookah for the first time at Ottoman Cafe.

He thinks its not far fetched to think teenagers might be tempted to add tobacco to waterpipes.

“Shisha bars are OK, though, because I look like I’m 30 and I got ID’ed,” he said.

Stockley doesn’t see the relevance to children.

“I don’t see anybody advertising to children,” said Stockley. “I don’t think hookah bars need to be outlawed overall.”

Both the Ottoman Cafe and 1001 Nights are 19+ venues with ID policies in place. They serve herbal hookahs with no tobacco in them.

“There’s no tobacco, no nicotine…nothing that can make you addicted,” said Kravtsov.

Hookahs are served with their food and beverages at Ottoman Cafe. Photo: Ameya Charnalia
Customers are served hookahs are served with their food and beverages at the Ottoman Cafe. Photo: Ameya Charnalia

But the government feels not all hookah bars are advertising honestly.

“We know that ingredients listed on the containers for waterpipes often don’t reflect the actual contents. In many cases, ingredients also include tobacco,” said Kiritsis.

Misconceptions

Joudery thinks ignorance has fuelled many misconceptions about hookahs in Nova Scotia. People deciding these laws “have no knowledge,” she said.

For the government, it’s a clear-cut health issue.

“In Nova Scotia we have worked hard to shift from a smoking culture toward a smoke-free culture and it’s important that we do not lose ground in this area,” said Kiritsis.

Ranjbar says 1001 Nights will lose $350,000 in having to close down. He believes the province should have a compensation plan for his businesses facing similar circumstances.

Establishments serving hookahs will have at least six months to adjust to the new law.


 

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