Shisha Lounges

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:04 pm, 5th December 2018

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am glad to see him here because we missed him very much in the Adjournment debate last night. I was going to send out a search party to see where he had disappeared to.

Shisha bars are gaining popularity among young people who do not drink alcohol, either by choice or because of their religion. There is clearly some demand for that type of space where no alcohol is served, because the options in many town and cities are pretty limited. If people want to go out, they are obliged to be in a place where alcohol is being sold and drunk, but that is not necessarily appropriate for everyone. There is a balance to be struck between the social good, where people can come together in an environment where there is no alcohol, and the harm from smoking shishas that the hon. Gentleman points out.

The perception that smoking shisha is cleaner and better than smoking cigarettes is a very dangerous myth, particularly for young people. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood pointed out that one session on a shisha can be as bad for your health as smoking 100 cigarettes. That is quite stark. That information needs to be out there and well known. If the Government did more to promote the public health message, that might be useful for many of our communities. The tobacco is usually fruit flavoured and slightly different from cigarettes, which can offer a false sense of security that it is not as bad for you, but smoking it doubles the risk of lung cancer and respiratory illness. It also contains all the factors that we know are harmful about tobacco and it is addictive. Because of the way that shisha is consumed, people take other chemicals into their lungs from the heating and burning process. It can be more harmful than smoking.

In Scotland, business owners need to be licensed to sell tobacco, including shisha tobacco. That does not apply in the rest of the UK, so businesses selling tobacco must be on the Scottish tobacco retailers register. Those found to be flouting the rules by selling tobacco without a licence can face a £20,000 fine. Such legislation is useful. Glasgow City Council has also done some work on this issue and reported on the enforcement of smoke-free legislation and initiatives. It had a specific shisha initiative to look at the issue within the city because it appreciated that the problem was growing and had perhaps simply grown organically.

The council visited different premises and had discussions with owners and environmental health officers, who conducted some of the enforcement initiatives with Police Scotland. They visited premises where persistent non-compliance had been noted, but the premises changed hands quite quickly afterwards. Such action makes enforcement difficult. As the hon. Lady pointed out, it can also mean greater cost to the police and local authorities. Because the regime is not quite there, the costs fall to environmental health and the police to take enforcement action. As we know, local authorities face great restrictions on their ability to do additional work.

We need to look more widely. Some of the engagement did lead to some better practice and improved things. Ventilation was considered. That engagement led to better reconstruction of premises and how they facilitate premises design that does not flout the legislation and supports the smoke-free legislation in Scotland, so there has been some positive engagement with enforcement action and we should take the positives from that.

More could be done to tackle the cultural attitudes towards smoking shisha. Although cigarette packets display warnings and graphic images, no similar branding regulations apply to selling shisha products. In fact, the opposite applies. The bars are glamorous and the surroundings luxurious. They are promoted in the same way as pubs—“Come and watch the football and smoke some shisha.” We need to think about how that is becoming more glamorised and tackle it with proper enforcement action and public health information. I urge the Minister to work with the Scottish Government on this matter, because good practice could be shared in a relatively small area of policy. We should see what more we could do together to get the public health message out there and make sure that people know what they are getting into when they smoke shisha.