Currently there are over 60 establishments in the GTA that offer the use of waterpipes to smoke shisha. Young Middle-Eastern men and women as well as a large and growing number of South Asians make up the clientele of many of these places. While many hookah aficionados consider smoking hookah very harmless, the city’s Board of Health is begging to differ. The health authority that argues that hookah smoking “poses health risks, such as heart and lung diseases, lung cancer and other respiratory problems.”
According to Toronto’s medical officer of health David McKeown, hookah smoking “is on the rise among young people,” many of whom are under the mistaken impression that it is a safe form of smoking.
Sometimes called waterpipes, hookahs are used to smoke tobacco and other herbal products commonly called shisha. They are popular among people from Middle Eastern and North African countries.
According to Public Health, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibits smoking tobacco in a hookah indoors in public spaces and at workplaces, but there is no ban on smoking non-tobacco products in Toronto establishments.
In a statement released Monday, Public Health said that researchers have “measured harmfully high levels of air pollutants in these businesses regardless of what is being smoked.”
According to some shisha bar and restaurant regulars, it is very discriminatory to certain cultures. Many of the young people who go out to these restaurants do not consume alcohol and simply enjoy smoking flavored hookah. It is a lot less harmless than consuming alcohol in pubs, they point out.
Ashish Gandhi, a businessman has visited many establishments that offer hookah says that these places attract a young and very clean crowd. “Flavoured hookah without tobacco is not harmful and it is something that is socially acceptable. You can see entire families coming out to these places. Friends and family socialize over hookah. Banning this will definitely affect business at these places,” he says.
Raj Khurana another businessman who meets up with friends very often at shisha bars and restaurants across the city says that there needs to be a law that targets establishments that illegally use tobacco. “By going after establishments that break the law they will ensure that harmful tobacco is not used,” he said.
Meanwhile those in favor of the ban say hookah use in licensed establishments undermines the success of the (Smoke-free Ontario Act) because it contributes to the social acceptability of smoking in public places.