Westminster City Council held a “Shisha Symposium” on 22nd February following a consultation the council undertook last year. The symposium was held at the Victory Services Club, an appropriate location as it is just off the Edgware Road, where there are many shisha cafés. The symposium was chaired by local councillor and resident, Cllr. Heather Acton.
Shisha smoking is a growing activity across the whole of the UK. However, the largest concentration of shisha cafés in the country is in Westminster with the majority of these located in and around Marylebone.
According to a number of the symposium’s speakers, the growth in shisha smoking is mainly amongst young people. The early part of the symposium was devoted to the health impacts of shisha smoking. There is a great deal of ignorance on the risks of shisha smoking amongst smokers who believe wrongly, that because the shisha pipe smoke passes through water it is cleaner and not harmful. In actual fact it is very harmful and because the pipes are shared amongst smokers, these people can pick up all sorts of respiratory problems from others, quite apart from the effects of the shisha smoke. There is also the issue of passive smoking, particularly for those who live above premises where a cluster of pipes are smoked under awnings which do not prevent the smoke from rising into the flats and rooms above, not to mention the noise nuisance associated with the activity, often late at night.
Westminster City Council wants to raise awareness amongst shisha smokers of the health implications to themselves and others and to ensure that shisha cafés are operating within the law and acting responsibly. Where these activities are causing major problems for local residents, the council can take action using planning and nuisance laws as enforcement tools. However, shisha is not currently a licensable activity which means that any action taken can be very protracted. In the longer term many councils throughout the country will be lobbying Parliament for shisha to become a licensable activity. In the meantime more research on the effects of shisha smoking is being undertaken and Westminster City Council has produced an interesting booklet called ‘Reducing the harm of Shisha: Towards a Strategy for Westminster’