City hall has ordered Vancouver’s two hookah lounges to stop operating by August 31. But the owners of these traditional Middle Eastern cafés aren’t letting their businesses go up in smoke without a fight.
“I’m not going to shut down,” Abdolhamid Mohammadian, owner of the Persian Tea House on Davie Street, told the Georgia Straight.
The 62-year-old Mohammadian and fellow Iranian émigré Abbas Bansaid, who owns the Ahwaz Hookah House on West Georgia Street, have hired Vancouver lawyer Dean Davison to keep city hall at bay.
Barbara Windsor, Vancouver’s deputy chief licence inspector, told the Straight that the city will “proceed with legal action” if the two cafés don’t stop operating as hookah lounges by the end of this month.
On July 10, city council approved a report prepared by Windsor and Domenic Losito of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority recommending that no further amendments be made to the city’s antismoking bylaw, regardless of the substance being smoked.
Addressing councillors at that same meeting, Bansaid said the hookah lounges are no longer using tobacco products and have shifted to a “herbal product” made from sugar, molasses, and fruit pulp.
The city staff report recalled that at a January 17 meeting, councillors asked staff to report back on the appropriateness of the city’s current definition of smoke and smoking in relation to the smoking of nontobacco products.
Windsor and Losito stated in the report that—based on the city’s definition dating back to 1986, when council adopted its first antismoking bylaw—smoke and smoking means “to inhale, exhale, burn, or carry a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, hookah pipe, or other lighted smoking equipment that burns tobacco or other weed or substance”.
“It would appear that the definition was crafted to reflect the fact that, irrespective of what is burned in a cigarette, pipe or hookah pipe, there are health risks to other occupants (workers and patrons) of the indoor space similar to the risks associated with the burning of tobacco,” the authors wrote.
However, Davison pointed out that there is no evidence to support claims that secondhand smoke from herbal products being smoked at the hookah lounges is bad for human health.
“The province has said, ”˜Hey, look, if you’re not burning tobacco, we’re fine with that,’ ” Davison told the Straight. “The City of Vancouver has focused on, for whatever reason, right or wrong, that they want to put them out of business, essentially.”
Davison said that his clients aren’t sure whether city hall will simply shut down the lounges or issue fines for bylaw infractions until they can no longer afford to remain open. He said that they will challenge the tickets using city hall processes and will take the matter to the B.C. Supreme Court if necessary.
“Yes, that’s the intention,” Davison said when asked if the hookah fight will ultimately have to be decided by the courts. “We are not going to necessarily initiate that, but if that’s the only recourse, then that’s what they will do.”