01:28, February 23 209 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-23 01:28:07
Councils call for powers to tackle 'lawless' shisha bars

Councils have called for licensing powers to tackle “lawless” shisha bars that violate laws on smoking and fire safety by allowing smoking indoors and serving under-18s.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has been struggling to regulate premises that persistently flout regulations, as prosecutions are slow and owners making high profits are increasingly undeterred by one-off fines of £2,500.

Council leaders said part of the problem of tackling shisha bars that break the law is secrecy around the ownership of many premises, limiting the ability of councils and police to take action against them.

Secrecy around ownership and ineffective fines mean offenders can easily reopen bars under a new name.

The number of shisha bars has trebled in recent years, with more than half of councils now having a bar or cafe in their area.

As well as violating smoking regulations, shisha is also often imported illegally and sold without duty.

The LGA is calling for an expansion of the activities that councils can license. This would make it easier to vet licence-holders prior to bars opening, monitor premises more effectively and revoke licences for repeat offenders.

Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The growing popularity of shisha bars and the lawless way some of them are being run exposes the loopholes that exist in our outdated and inflexible licensing system.

“Smoke-free laws are not offering strong enough punishments to deter irresponsible shisha bar owners who are making lucrative profits, which means councils often need to carry out costly and lengthy investigations to take action against the same bar over and over again.”

Rustu Korkmaz, the owner of Double Apple shisha bar in north London, said: “The councils definitely need to do more to deal with shisha bars that break the law.

“The problem is some of the new bars that have opened in recent years – they open a bar that goes against regulations, get shut down after a year and then reopen under a different name or in a different area. They are in it to make quick profits.

“In recent years several shisha bars have opened in my area – there are three just across the street. I opened my bar in 2011 and I’ve never had problems because I’ve always followed regulations – we pay duties, have no smoking indoors and ID anyone who looks under 25.”

Licensing powers could also allow local public health teams to work with owners to ensure customers are aware of the risks associated with shisha, specifically the misconception that it is less harmful than cigarette smoke.

The British Heart Foundation advises that shisha tobacco contains cigarette tobacco and therefore nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals such as arsenic and lead. This puts shisha smokers at risk of the same diseases as cigarette smokers, including heart disease and cancer.