Winnipeg closer to regulating hookah lounges

A hookah lounge owner is speaking out after the City of Winnipeg inches closer to banning hookah. Edward Djan has more.

The City of Winnipeg is one step closer to regulating the usage of hookahs with a committee at City Hall set to deliberate a motion on whether Winnipeg should create by-laws banning hookah usage indoors and on patios.

The Standing Policy Committee on Community Services referred earlier this week the motion to the Executive Policy Committee and Council.

The person behind that motion, Councillor Russ Wyatt, says the complete ban of hookahs indoors and on patios is about fairness.

“We want to be consistent in terms of previous by-laws, where we banned indoor smoking. Our challenge is, how do you enforce the use of hookahs where, yes, they can be used with non-nicotine or non-cannabis products but it’s nearly impossible to enforce that,” explained Councillor Russ Wyatt.

“I’m somebody I used to enjoy smoking cigars and I am a cigarette smoker. It’s an inconvenience to me to have to smoke outdoors instead of a patio or inside.”

The motion from Councillor Wyatt came after the City of Winnipeg presented a report to the community services committee on how other jurisdictions regulated hookah usage.

That report came after Councillor Cindy Gilroy raised concerns about the safety of hookah establishments earlier this year, bringing forth a motion for the city to do the report.

“We need to understand what are hookah lounges. What are they being used for? Are they similar to nightclubs? Should they be regulated like a nightclub? But also making sure when people are smoking inside that there are some really clear regulations around that and the safety and use of hookah,” said Councillor Cindy Gilroy.

CityNews reached out to several Hookah lounges in Winnipeg, with no one willing to speak on-camera prior to broadcast time.

One Winnipeg hookah lounge owner spoke to CityNews on the condition of anonymity.

He offers non-tobacco hookah and says lounges like his provide a cultural place for people in Winnipeg to gather together.

“It’s not harmful,” he said. “This is socializing and gathering. We do this in the Far East and some countries in Africa daily, where people get together and smoke.”

Noel Gerry is a Toronto-based lawyer who represented several clients opposed to Toronto’s by-law changes back in 2015 that banned hookah usage in licensed city establishments.

He says his clients were able to find a workaround that allowed them to operate despite the ban.

“If you wish to provide your customers with refreshments, you couldn’t also have hookah pipes because you would require that business license for refreshments. What happened was a lot of the owners of these establishments saw that as a loophole and started giving away the refreshments for free, because you don’t require a business license if you are gifting the refreshments as opposed to selling them,” said Gerry.

Councillor Gilroy says while she is concerned about the safety of patrons at hookah lounges, she also isn’t calling for an outright ban on them just yet.

“If we can find some regulations that work with the community, I would be fine with that.”

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