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Proposal to licence hookah bars struck down

Toronto’s licensing and standards committee wants more time to examine the health impact of smoking from hookahs before making an ultimate decision on regulating the establishments.

On Friday night the committee struck down a city staff proposal to have hookah bars licensed, saying they want to an updated report in the first quarter of 2013 that would take a more thorough look into the health issues associated with the form of smoking.

There are an estimated 80 hookah establishments operating in the city.

Usually located in restaurants, bars or cafes, the businesses allow the smoking of dried plants, herbs, and tea leaves, also known as shisha, that are flavoured and sometimes contain tobacco.

The practice is believed to have originated in India and the Middle East more than 400 years ago.

So far, officers have laid 81 charges at 25 so-called water pipe establishments under the Smoke Free Ontario Act, which bans smoking tobacco in indoor public spaces.

But the smoking ban doesn’t cover non-tobacco herbal shisha.

The report, ordered by council last November, raises concerns over the spread of diseases like meningitis or herpes when pipes are shared, the effects of second-hand smoke and the number of young people — aged 15-22 — who have started smoking shisha. It says council should move to license hookah bars, thereby controlling them more closely.

Staff found many people wrongly believe that because shisha is flavoured and the smoke passes through water, it’s healthier than smoking cigarettes and cigars.

Most of the hookah bar owners the city consulted are in favour of licensing, which they believe will make their businesses seem more legitimate.

Do you think licensing hookah bars is a good idea? Share your thoughts below.