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LGA - 'Lawless' shisha bars need licensing to tackle serious crime and weak smoke-free laws
Licensing powers are needed to help councils tackle shisha bars that repeatedly flout smoking and fire safety laws, and in the worst cases are linked to organised crime, town hall leaders urge.
The number of shisha bars has more than trebled in recent years with more than half of councils now having a bar or café open in their area.
But the increase has caused misery for residents living near rogue premises linked to persistent anti-social behaviour, and has led to concern about the health impacts of shisha.
Shisha premises that illegally allow indoor smoking or allow those under 18 to smoke the flavoured tobacco can currently be tackled using smoke-free laws.
However, the LGA said that prosecutions are taking up to a year and bar owners are increasingly undeterred by one-off fines of up to £2,500. This leaves councils struggling to regulate persistent offenders who can easily reopen shisha cafes under a new name.
In some cases, shisha bars – which can be multi-storey buildings catering for as many as 400 patrons – are not only flouting smoking laws, but are breaching fire safety legislation and causing major disturbances through anti-social behaviour and have even been the scenes of shootings. Shisha is also often imported illegally and sold without duty.
The true ownership of shisha premises is often deliberately secretive, which hinders the ability of councils and police to take effective action against them.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling for government to modernise the list of activities councils can ‘opt-in’ to licence.
This would provide flexibility for individual councils to adopt local licensing schemes to cover modern and emerging risks, such as shisha bars, if there are concerns about how they are operating.
Councils could then vet licence holders in advance of premises opening, more easily monitor shisha bars and cafes for harmful activity and seize equipment or revoke licences for repeat offenders breaching licensing conditions or breaking the law.
Giving individual councils the power to license shisha bars would also strengthen the ability of town hall public health teams to ensure owners work with them to educate customers about the misconception that smoking shisha is safer than smoking cigarettes.
According to the World Health Organisation, smoking a shisha pipe for one hour can be equivalent to smoking 200 cigarettes.
Cllr 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 out-dated and inflexible licensing system. The Government needs to make it easier for individual councils to regulate rogue shisha bars by giving them the power to license and regulate them in their areas.
“Most owners want to run their businesses responsibly but councils need tougher powers to take action against those deliberately exploiting the law due to gaps between different frameworks. 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.
“Children often accompany adults in shisha bars and need protection from passively breathing in smoke which is especially toxic as it contains high carbon monoxide levels.
“We would always rather work with shisha bars to ensure they operate legally rather than prosecute them, but café owners are more likely to obey the law if they knew they might lose their licence.”
A shisha café owner was ordered to pay £2,255 after customers were caught smoking indoors on two separate visits by enforcement officers following a prosecution by Redbridge Council which brought the case to court as part of a crackdown on shisha venues flouting the law.
The owners of two shisha cafes were ordered to pay a total of £2,900 after customers were found smoking shisha in substantially enclosed premises in both establishments, following a prosecution by Bolton Council.
Business owners repeatedly flouting the law by allowing smoking indoors have been fined a total of £41,000 since the start of an operation by Sheffield City Councilwhich began in 2013. The team targets repeat offenders, resulting in seven prosecutions and more than £13,000 of fines in 2018 alone. They focus not only on smoking indoors but also unsafe premises, and the sale of tobacco to under-18s. The council is focusing on businesses that encourage smoking on their premises – with Shisha cafes being the worst offenders.
A police report of a shooting at a shisha bar in Birmingham can be read here.
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