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New licensing regime needed to tackle rogue shisha bars

Tougher new powers are needed to crack down on shisha bars that breach smoking laws and are linked to anti-social behaviour

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Tougher new powers are needed to crack down on shisha bars that breach smoking laws and are linked to anti-social behaviour, councils urge today.

The Local Government Association is calling on the Government to introduce a new licensing regime for shisha premises, which would strengthen the powers available to councils.

While the number of shisha premises has increased significantly in recent years, councils currently lack the tools with which to regulate them and take enforcement action where necessary.

A new licensing regime would enable councils to grant or refuse licences for new shisha premises, revoke or suspend licences, and add conditions to licences to improve safety.

This follows incidents involving shisha premises allowing smoking indoors, flouting fire safety and selling illicit shisha.

There are also concerns over the health risks associated with shisha smoking, as well as issues such as noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour, which councils have limited powers to address under current legislation.

Shisha bars do not require a licence or registration unless they serve alcohol, have other regulated entertainment or serve food between 11pm and 5am.

Although tobacco is not licensed, there aren’t any smoking lounges for other types of tobacco. Therefore, councils argue shisha premises should be licensed given they are venues specifically designed for its consumption, which can be detrimental to people’s health.

The LGA is also calling for:

  • An increase in the level of fines for indoor shisha-smoking and for these to be levied against businesses and not just customers. Current levels are not sufficient as a deterrent. 
  • A ban on flavoured shisha tobacco, as is currently the case with regular tobacco products.
  • Mandatory labelling of health warnings on shisha products, including smoking paraphernalia 
  • Mandatory warning signs that tobacco must not be sold to under 18s on every shisha bar table.

Cllr Heather Kidd, Chair of the Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Currently shisha premises generally fall outside existing licensing laws. 

“It is not right that a venue requires a licence to serve a hot drink after 11pm but not for smoking shisha. Licensing shisha would also send a stronger and clearer health message around the potential dangers of shisha smoking, as there is a common misconception it is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.

“Shisha also needs to be brought within scope of existing tobacco control strategies to ensure consistency.

“A new regulatory regime would enable councils to work with shisha businesses to ensure they operate safely and lawfully.”

Case studies

1.    A premises in Newham was found to routinely breach smoke-free legislation. Despite regular inspections by the council, it was limited in what action it could take, with fines being too low to be a deterrent.

2.    Operation Falcon in Leicester found shisha tobacco being sold without UK duty paid in nine of 13 premises visited, equating to approximately £21,250 of duty not being paid.

3.    Subsequent visits by Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards department to shisha bars in Oxfordshire that had previously flouted laws were once again discovered to be in some form of non-compliance, in relation to selling illicit shisha and allowing smoking in enclosed areas.

Notes to editors

1. LGA - Reducing the harm of shisha and the need for better regulation: Local Government policy paper

2.    Intervention by a wide range of stakeholders, including public health, environmental health and trading standards, is often required to achieve adequate enforcement of shisha bars. 

3.    Shisha smoking is covered by the UK smoking ban, meaning it is illegal to smoke the pipes inside cafes and bars. Those cafes with outdoor smoking shelters need roofs that are at least 50 per cent open so air can circulate. Bar owners and managers face fines of up to £2,500 for allowing smoking in a smoke-free place and up to £1,000 for not displaying a no-smoking sign.

4. Between 2007-2012, shisha smoking rose by 210 per cent and there was a 510 per cent increase in shisha cafes between 2010-2018. Studies from different parts of London show 40 per cent of secondary aged children have smoked shisha, more than twice the number who have tried cigarettes (19 per cent).