Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood, has continued her long-running campaign to secure regulations on shisha lounges across the country.
Residents in Birmingham, Westminster, Brent, Ealing, Preston, Manchester and many other core cities are facing issues of noise nuisance, crime, and antisocial behaviour caused by the lack of regulations in place to protect local communities from poorly run establishments.
Shisha, which is also known as a water pipe, hubble-bubble smoking or hookah, is a way of smoking tobacco through a bowl and a pipe or a tube. The tobacco is often mixed with other flavours such as mint, coconut or pineapple. The tobacco is burned, and then the vapour or smoke passes through a water basin before inhalation. It is a social activity; people do it in groups.
There has been a proliferation of shisha lounges in Birmingham, Ladywood for some years. It is a growing trend in major UK cities.
Current regulations on Shisha lounges are extremely thin on the ground. It is subject to the ban on smoking in public spaces in the UK alongside all other smoking. As a tobacco product, shisha is also subject to controls relating to all tobacco products, such as a ban on sale to those under 18.
However, in terms of licensing, the Licensing Act 2003 only covers the sale of alcohol and certain forms of “regulated entertainment”. Licenses are usually issued by a local authority. Shisha bars are not required to have a licence under this legislation unless they are regulated for another reason – such as the sale of alcohol.
Shabana Mahmood MP wrote to the Minister responsible for this policy requesting a review into regulations. He has noted that he will now instruct civil servants to undertake investigations into the law covering shisha lounges.
Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood, said:
“The misery people can face when shisha lounges are poorly run and poorly located is unimaginable. There are some areas of our constituency that have been family communities for years, but along comes a shisha lounge with little to no regard for the area and this spirit is ruined.
“Covid has only exacerbated the problem with shisha lounges – with legal loopholes leading to a wild west-style free for all that puts pressure on policing and the Council resources at an already difficult time. At their very worst, it is without doubt that these venues are contributing to the spread of coronavirus.
“My long-standing campaign has been focused on updating our laws so that shisha lounges become regulated premises, just like pubs, clubs and bars. Local people should have a greater say over where these lounges should be located and currently, they do not. For too long the Government has fallen back on the tired excuses that if shisha lounges sell alcohol they are covered by appropriate regulations. This fails to understand that not all premises do.
“The commitment by the Minister to explore all avenues available to better regulate shisha lounges is welcomed. But I want to see the Government go much further than that. They must bring in the very people who will be responsible for issuing licences if they are introduced: local councils. We need communities included in this process if we are to make progress and I will continue to press on this.”
Challenges being faced in Birmingham have been exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions. This is due to shisha premises falling under ‘restricted business’ provision of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (steps) (England) Regulations 2021. This remains the case until we leave Part 3 and move into 4.
Under Schedule 3, part 2, reg 9(g) of this legislation such businesses are restricted from ‘providing (whether or not for payment) a waterpipe to be used for the consumption of tobacco or any other substance on the premises. Birmingham currently has a number of shisha businesses who, since lockdown easement of restrictions have operated providing water pipes to customers.
A current loophole in this legislation allows for customers to bring their own pipe and for the shisha premises to provide the tobacco and pay a fee (similar to a corkage fee). Some businesses are operating like this. This particular activity makes it more challenging for regulators as we have to prove the shisha business are providing the pipes.
A large number of shisha businesses which opened in May have been visited by regulators and West Midlands Police have now ceased to operate following a prohibition notice. However, there are growing reports of these businesses now operating out of car parks late at night and not within the premises they operate. This does not evade the legislation.
It is understood that Prohibition notices, enforceable under the Covid regulations, and Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) have been served on a number of shisha businesses. This includes three £10,000 fines which have been served on a business plus FPN on individuals at the premises.
Notes to editors:
The full ministerial response can be accessed at: https://www.shabanamahmood.org/2021/05/04/shabana-receives-minister-response-on-shisha-lounges/