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Profits at Winnipeg hookah lounges are going up in smoke as the provincial government continues to impose fines on them for breaching public health orders during the pandemic.
Public health officials have levied 15 fines, totalling $34,000, against six establishments that serve hookah since late May, according to the Manitoba government’s latest health protection report.
The message being sent — that hookahs have been banned amid the pandemic — does not appear to be sinking in with some owners. Two restaurants have been fined more than $10,000 each for repeat violations.
A hookah is an instrument traditionally used to smoke shisha, a mixture of tobacco and molasses sugar or fruit. Under normal circumstances, some Winnipeg restaurants operate as hookah lounges by offering customers the ability to smoke tobacco-free herbal shisha.
Ibex Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge at 626 Sargent Ave. is the latest establishment to have its knuckles rapped.
On Sept. 11, the owner was handed a single ticket for $2,542 for "allowing use of hookah on the premises." It was the eatery's first offence. Attempts to reach the Ibex owner for comment were unsuccessful.
Leading the pack has been 7 Arabian Dreams at 775 Corydon Ave., which has been issued six tickets and fined $15,252 since August. Those tickets resulted from four inspections of the restaurant on Aug. 1, Aug. 27, Sept. 8, and Sept. 10.
Amanjot Singh Bajwa, the co-owner of 7 Arabian Dreams, could not be reached for comment but has told the media he would fight the fines because they are "unfair."
Singh Bajwa said hookah is safe.
“The prohibition on the use of hookahs was ordered… based on the risk of transmission of COVID-19 that they present." — Provincial spokeswoman
"When the customer is done, we wash and sanitize everything. We change the water. Everything," he told CTV Winnipeg recently.
But 7 Arabian Dreams is not the only establishment to be fined more than once.
Siraj Café and Lounge — which is also on the 700 block of Corydon Avenue — has been fined five times for a total of $10,168. Those tickets stem from two incidents at the restaurant on July 20 and Aug. 11.
"Public health focuses on the education on the public health emergency orders and did so with businesses in respect of the use of hookahs. However, as the businesses continued to permit the use of hookahs in their premises, they have been ticketed," a provincial spokeswoman said in a written statement.
"The prohibition on the use of hookahs was ordered… based on the risk of transmission of COVID-19 that they present. Public health is looking at actions that may be taken if businesses continue to permit the use of hookahs in contravention of the public health emergency orders."
Other hookah lounges cited for violations include Arabesque Hookah Café and Lounge on Corydon Avenue (May 27, $5,542); Ramallah Café After Hours on Pembina Highway (May 28, $486); and Layla’s Café and Hookah Lounge on Scurfield Boulevard (Aug. 18, $486).
Layla’s was fined for breaching public health orders by allowing customers to smoke hookah, while Ramallah Café After Hours and Arabesque Hookah Café and Lounge were ticketed for failing to comply with social distancing guidelines, the health protection report said.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
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