Alberta health advocates call on Edmonton city council not to overturn ban on shisha lounges

An Alberta health coalition is calling on Edmonton city council to double down on its ban of shisha lounges and end talks of possible reinstatement.

Campaign For a Smoke-Free Alberta, a group of health advocacy organizations, wants council to halt the city’s study of options for a separate business licence class that could allow these lounges to operate again with strict restrictions after they were banned last July.

Requirements would include the installation of a completely separate smoking area that doesn’t allow for smoke to pass through into the dining area. A self-serve smoking area would also ensure employees don’t need to go into the space and minors would be prohibited.

Les Hagen, executive director of coalition member Action on Smoking and Health, said not only does the group oppose any new business licence class but also the proposed new regulations.

Hagen argued separate rooms and stronger ventilation aren’t going to eliminate all of the secondhand smoke impacts and workers will still be affected.

“City council had good reasons to remove hookah smoking from public establishments and there’s no reason to revisit that issue, particularly in the middle of a public health pandemic,” Hagen said. “Ventilation is definitely not the answer and to properly ventilate a contaminant that has no safe level of exposure is extremely expensive.”

Majority of Edmontonians oppose: poll

A February survey shows Edmontonians aren’t in favour as well.

In a Leger survey commissioned by the coalition, 57 per cent of Edmonton respondents said they oppose a special exemption to allow for hookah smoking.

Of the 506 people surveyed, 35 per cent strongly disagree with any changes to the bylaw that prohibits smoking of any kind in publicly-accessible indoor spaces. On the other hand, about 20 per cent said they agree with an exemption to let them operate.

The proposed idea to restore lounges was brought forward by former operators and community advocates, eager for a solution to open up again. Shisha smoking is a common cultural practice in African, Arab and South Asian communities and advocates said the ban eliminated these cultural gatherings and is having detrimental impacts on the businesses that have had to adapt to a new restaurant model.

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