With the news of Manchester City Council’s crackdown on indoor shisha cafes, we take a look at the issue
The government has decided to ban smoking indoors, and has failed to follow this through. The law bans all smoking indoors, with no clause to excuse shisha. All the justifications used for passing this law in the first place apply to the smoking of shisha. If anything, they apply more than cigarettes. Being a passive smoker is not something one consents to, and being a passive shisha smoker is similarly damaging. Moreover, there should be uniformity of the law. A law is a law, and should have the same weight and purpose everywhere.
The cafes which offer shisha are also cafes in themselves. Many serve snacks, drinks and host live entertainment. It’s possible, and indeed probable, that many people want to visit these cafes and not smoke shisha. Why should they be forced to passively smoke? Excusing the cafes from the smoking ban can make them very alienating and unwelcoming places for these people. If shisha was banned indoors, the cafes could arguably benefit from the extra business from new, non-smoking customers. If you’re still not convinced, think about the fact that these cafes don’t serve alcohol, making them popular family destinations. Even if grown adults enter these cafes in the knowledge they will passively smoke, children most certainly do not.
I am not arguing for the banning of shisha. Shisha can be a fun, sociable and relaxing activity for many people. However, there is no reason for people to smoke shisha indoors. Many shisha cafes have outdoor smoking gardens, with heaters and parasols to protect smokers from the elements. It would be simple and easy to move all their shisha pipes outside. The UK has adjusted to the banning of smoking cigarettes with ease, and should do the same for shisha.
To say that shisha cafes should be regulated by the same laws that make smoking indoors illegal is to entirely misunderstand the culture behind the two different ways of ingesting smoke.
Shisha cafes operate under a culture where everybody clearly knows what to expect when they enter them. It’s not correct to compare them to the situation in pubs before the smoking ban, as the primary aim of a pub is to drink and have a sociable time. The primary aim of a shisha cafe, as the name suggests, is to smoke shisha with refreshments on offer secondary to this. Whilst it is problematic that in some cafes children are to be found passively smoking, the answer to this is to ban children from them, much like we ban children from pubs, not to remove people’s free choice to enjoy shisha in a warm environment.
This is the key difference between cigarettes and shisha: whereas with cigarettes within pubs and clubs, lots of people who didn’t want smoke in their face had to put up with it, with shisha cafes the culture is such that there aren’t people there apart from those who wish to smoke, and the people who work there are almost exclusively shisha smokers. To work at a shisha serving establishment you would need to ingest smoke whether it is served inside or out; to set one up and serve your customers you need to smoke it both actively and passively. People who do this make an active choice to learn the skill, whereas to sell cigarettes you do not need to do this, much like people smoking outside of an establishment don’t need to be served by anyone – they are entirely different things.