Vancouver's hookah parlours lose smoking exemption
cynthia yoo | January 18, 2008 at 08:03 amby
3095 views | 3 Recommendations | 3 comments
Council chamber at City Hall was filled with a colourful coalition of well-heeled cigar lounge operators and hookah parlour owners and their earnest supporters. They were an expressive lot and the hour-long council meeting was often punctuated with loud claps, guffaws and taunts.
But their impassioned pleas and arguments were all for naught as council voted unanimously to remove the earlier exemption and bring bylaws in line with recent provincial smoking regulations.
The council meeting painted a classic scene of small business owners doing their best to escape a bureaucratic quagmire and of local politicians with their hands up in the air, passing blame to higher authorities for the confusion.
Speakers on behalf of the hookah parlours argued that the council should keep the earlier bylaw exemption that recognized the cultural and social significance of hookah lounges in Muslim and Middle-Eastern communities.
“Hookahs are the only place we can go and remember our past. We don’t drink. We don’t go to the clubs. We don’t go to the pub. So this is the only place we can be social with Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Abbas Abdim’s heartfelt words were met with loud clapping from the audience.
Emotions reached their peak as the final speaker, Hamid Mohammadian, operator of the Persian Teahouse on Davie Street, recounted his story of coming to Canada and pleaded with the council to let him keep his livelihood.
“You have the power to save my life,” Mohammadian repeated over and over.
Embarrassed by his tears, Mohammadian went to the back of the gallery and composed himself, facing away from the council.
Mohammadian was speaking to the same councillors who had unanimously voted last September to create temporary exemptions for him and others. That time, council agreed with the arguments of the hookah and cigar lounge operators.
This time, the councillors explained that city bylaws must abide with the new provincial smoking regulations that will commence on March 31, 2008.
Hearing that the hookah and cigar lounge owners were currently petitioning the provincial government to create exemptions for their businesses in the provincial regulations, the council questioned Domenic Losito, Regional Director of Health Protection at Vancouver Coastal Health.
Losito replied that the chance of such an exemption was “very slim at best” and that the provincial government has told him that their regulations “are going forward.”
Given that response, Councillor Tim Stevenson said, “It really takes it out of our hands even if we wanted to consider otherwise.”
His words were met with jeers from the audience, of which one member shouted whether green tea would be banned next, given the vague wording of the bylaw.
That particular quip led to some discussion by the councilors over the vague and possibly overbroad wording of the bylaw. The discussion at times turned surreal as councillors argued whether the bylaw which banned the indoor smoking of “tobacco or other weed or other substances,” might actually ban something as innocuous as green tea.
Councillor Suzanne Anton repeatedly asked whether the city has been too passive in dealing with the smoking bylaws and perhaps has not addressed their consequences more concretely.
Losito was questioned repeatedly on how the consequences of the bylaw will be handled. He had no specific answers on how to deal with issues of enforcement and noise pollution caused by outside smoking, except to say that he would deal with such issues in a “focused and targeted way.”
The hookah and cigar lounges have been dealt with such a “focused and targeted way” but they say that they are “not prepared to lie down and take it.”
Wayne Ryan, lawyer for the hookah lounge owners said, “We’re off to Victoria to speak with the provincial people for the first time to indicate with them the cultural reasons to have hookah places exempt from the guidelines. The use of hookah and shisha tobacco is a cultural, historical matter for many countries in the Middle East.”
Rob PetersThese members have powered this story: