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Hookah lounge owner worried as city eyes possible ban

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A Winnipeg hookah lounge owner is worried about a potential ban they say could put them out of business.

The city is considering crafting a bylaw which would prohibit using the smoking devices indoors and on patios.

Girum Nigatu says smoking from a hookah pipe is a social activity in his culture, no different than tea or coffee time.

"Most people come together to smoke hookah," said Nigatu, the owner of Onexvii Lounge. "Families get together, people come around the pipe and they'll share."

He is now worried about the future of his lounge as the potential ban would impact the majority of his business. He says hookah makes up about 80 per cent of his business and the ban would force him to close down, putting 21 people out of work.

"I can't speak (for) other business owners, but I would assume they're in the same boat that I'm in."

A hookah pipe has a smoke chamber, a water bowl, pipe and a hose, and is used to smoke shisha, which is flavoured tobacco. There are also non-tobacco shisha options.

Last month, the community services committee passed a motion for city staff to draft a bylaw prohibiting hookahs indoors and on patios.

"I think the big question right now, is smoking indoors socially acceptable anymore," said Coun. Evan Duncan, the chair of the committee.

Duncan said hookah lounges are able to operate because of a loophole in the provincial indoor smoking ban law. He said the lounges need to be closed for safety's sake.

"This is a major health issue. In fact, the use of shisha in these hookah pipes, 45 minutes of that exposure is the equivalent of 100 cigarettes."

However, the mayor's executive policy committee, which includes Duncan, put the bylaw motion on hold for 30 days to see if the province has a role to play.

"In the regulating of, the establishment of, and banning of such facilities," Mayor Scott Gillingham said Tuesday.

Nigatu says his hookah stock is a combination of water and molasses and not tobacco.

He wants proof this is a health risk and says there ways to make lounges safer, like having proper ventilation.

"To just jump to outright banning it is ill-guided and misinformed," said Nigatu.

The city report says hookah lounges are already prohibited in five other cities including Vancouver, North Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Toronto.

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