Council delays final decision on waterpipe smoking in Calgary shisha bars

City councillors have backed away from the idea of banning waterpipe smoking while they wait for amendments to provincial legislation.

Council will await provincial legislation before voting to ban or allow waterpipe smoking

Hookah and shisha pipes date back centuries and origins are found in the Middle East, South Africa and India. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Smoking will remain legal at shisha bars in Calgary... for now.

City councillors have backed away from the idea of banning waterpipe smoking while they wait for amendments to provincial legislation.

There was a proposal to include it in the city's smoking and vaping bylaw, and the city suggested council give shisha bar owners until Jan. 1, 2021 to end the practice for health reasons.

However, a council committee voted Wednesday to wait for amendments to provincial legislation expected in the spring before making any decisions.

Several councillors, including Joe Magliocca, Jeromy Farkas and Evan Woolley, said the city shouldn't take steps that would force up to 40 shisha lounges out of business after it had previously required them to spend heavily on improved ventilation systems. 

Odai Alghebari owns a shisha lounge in Calgary. Alghebari says he spent $150,000 on a new ventilation system.

"The guys that are talking against us, they've never ran a business before. It takes two years to actually return your costs and then start making profits, and that's a successful business," Alghebari said. "If it's not a successful business, usually you're going to need three to four years, so there's a lot of hurdles. Like the councillor was saying, why does the city have to make it harder for you guys?  We don't need to do that."

Coun. Jeromy Farkas says he can't support a ban after the shisha bars upgraded their ventilation systems to protect their workers.

"I would just say let Calgarians decide for themselves if they want to consume a product that carries some risk, and we can't bubble wrap people," Farkas said.

Although the politicians have decided to hold off until the province brings in amendments to its smoking rules, Alghebari is still uncertain what the future holds for his business.

"You don't know where you're going to go. You don't know if you're going to go right or left," he said. "They haven't given us a final decision so it is a little bit tough."

City council will discuss the issue later this month.

With files from Scott Dippel


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