Shisha Lounges

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood 2:30 pm, 5th December 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered reforming the regulation of shisha lounges.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am delighted to have secured this debate. In a week in which Ministers have been held in contempt of Parliament for the first time ever, and we have had ongoing and various crises related to the handling of Brexit, talking about the regulation of shisha premises might seem a little niche. I have found myself educating many colleagues about what shisha is and about the problems relating to shisha premises in the affected communities.

Central to this debate is how we as citizens navigate community life together, balancing the social and entertainment needs of some against the needs of residents, and whether we can take effective action when things go wrong. Residents affected by issues relating to shisha lounges, such as those in my constituency and other areas including Westminster, Brent, Ealing, Preston, Manchester and many of our other core cities, can attest to the fact that, when things go wrong, they face the misery of noise nuisance, crime, antisocial behaviour and everything that goes with that. For them, this is definitely not a niche issue. It affects communities profoundly.

I should explain what shisha is and what form these premises take. Shisha, which is also known as a water pipe, hubble-bubble smoking or a 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—I have seen every variety going. 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. It is not dissimilar to going out for a night at the cinema or any other kind of entertainment activity. People go out for a night of shisha smoking.

I am not exactly sure where shisha smoking originated, but it is common in parts of the middle east, Africa and Asia. In recent years it has become much more popular in the UK. I have been aware of shisha places in Birmingham for some years, but there has been a proliferation of establishments there over the past five years. It is a growing trend in our major cities. I have never smoked shisha or any kind of cigarette, and I cannot personally see the attraction of it, but many of my constituents, friends and acquaintances enjoy it as a night out and regularly go to a shisha lounge, bar or café.

These establishments are much more varied than might be assumed. One of the stereotypical assumptions about what shisha premises look like is that they are typically some sort of middle eastern café with a middle eastern food menu and décor that is indicative of some sort of middle eastern origin—almost tent-like. Certainly, some establishments fit that stereotype, but there are also many huge venues—swish, swanky establishments that are often spread out over a number of floors in buildings that may previously have been warehouses. They look and feel like any other major nightclub or similar attraction in a major city.

In my constituency and across Birmingham I have seen that the clientele of those establishments is much more cosmopolitan than might be assumed. It might be thought that this activity is primarily enjoyed by people from black and minority ethnic communities, but it is much wider. That is partly because some of those establishments do not sell alcohol—some do, but some do not—and make a virtue of offering an alcohol-free space for people who wish to enjoy it. That fills a gap in the market for young Muslims, in particular, who want to go out and have a good time just like anybody else, but want to be in an alcohol-free space. There has also been an increase in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds across all communities and social classes who do not drink alcohol. Entrepreneurial businessmen and women are trying to fill the demand in the market by opening up these types of venues, which do not serve alcohol but provide a night-time entertainment offer for different sections of the community.

Many shisha establishments serve food—food is a key part of their offer. Many double up as dessert places—another type of venue that has proliferated—where people can get milkshakes that contain three days’-worth of their recommended calorie intake and smoke shisha at the same time. Some are modest cafés and others are much more like nightclubs. Across Birmingham the number of establishments of various different forms has grown over the past few years.

As a Member of Parliament, a resident and a citizen of my city, I was aware that these venues were growing in popularity, but I had not come across the issues that affect local people when one opens up until I did a coffee morning in my constituency in the summer of 2016. I expected it to be a normal coffee morning, when the issues we would expect were raised, but every resident who came wanted to talk about the problems they were facing as a result of a shisha lounge opening directly opposite their small housing estate. It related to a shisha lounge called Arabian Nites, which has featured much in Birmingham news over the past few months.

The stories that my residents shared with me were horrendous. They said that a nightclub had opened directly opposite their houses, and they were powerless to do anything to stop the issues they faced as a result. Some residents had been attacked, and some had woken up to find patrons of the establishment urinating in their front gardens—in one case, as they were getting ready to take their children to school in the morning. The noise nuisance was so bad that they could never open their windows at night—not even in the peak heat of summer—and even with their windows shut the noise disturbance was pretty high. Parking became a total nightmare, and there was partying till the early hours.

People told me that their community had been ruined. One of the saddest things is that in that area there are lots of council housing tenants who have lived there for decades and are the absolute backbone of the local community. They have been there through thick and thin and have seen lots of changes to their community, but they love their community and the place where they live.