New safety standards needed for hookah lounges, councillor says


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Winnipeg should set new rules and safety standards for hookah lounges due to concerns they could create poor air quality, a city councillor says.

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Winnipeg should set new rules and safety standards for hookah lounges due to concerns they could create poor air quality, a city councillor says.

Cindy Gilroy is calling for staff to report on how other cities and provinces regulate hookah use and, in consultation with the Manitoba government, devise appropriate regulations for businesses that offer the service.

In a motion raised at Thursday’s council meeting, Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) said new rules could include setting minimum ventilation requirements for the businesses, along with other safety standards.

She stressed her goal is not to ban hookah lounges altogether.

“Lots of people really enjoy going to these lounges, so the intent is really not to stop them… but we have to make sure they are safe,” she said.

In traditional hookah use, the multi-pronged water pipe can be used to smoke shisha, a mixture of tobacco and molasses, sugar or fruit. The practice is common in the Middle East, India and beyond.

While the Manitoba government has banned smoking and vaping tobacco in indoor public places, Winnipeg restaurants are able to operate as hookah lounges by offering customers the ability to smoke tobacco-free shisha.

But Gilroy’s motion notes both tobacco and non-tobacco versions may expose users and bystanders to hazardous air pollutants, including carbon monoxide. Presently, there’s a lack of rules to reduce that health risk as the businesses become increasingly popular, the councillor said.

“(Carbon monoxide is) a silent killer that could be poisoning people, so we have to make sure that we have proper ventilation… and make sure they’re safe for people that are enjoying hookah experiences, the patrons and also the people working there,” she said.

Some public-health advocates, including the Lung Association of Manitoba, have pushed the provincial government to ban hookah service for years over concerns about effects from the smoke.

When asked if she’s concerned new regulations could impose expensive new conditions on businesses, Gilroy said she expects the industry will be able to provide feedback before any changes are made.

While using a hookah is traditional within certain cultures, both Gilroy and Mayor Scott Gillingham said they consider the matter primarily a health and safety issue.

“I’m seeing this through the lens of safety. If there’s the presence of carbon monoxide in a building and it’s not ventilated properly and there’s a group of people (inside), regardless of ethnicity, it’s a safety issue,” said Gillingham.

The mayor said he supports Gilroy’s motion to explore potential new rules to address that risk.

The Free Press attempted to contact several Winnipeg lounge operators Thursday who either declined interview requests or could not be reached.

Gilroy’s motion is set to considered by council’s community services committee next month.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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