(Image: Beirut Nights)
We speak to one lounge operator who reckons the venues unfairly get a bad press
They seem to be popping up all over London.
But now new rules will order shisha bars and cafes that are appearing increasingly around central areas of the city to carry graphic health warnings about the effects of pipe smoking.
And that can be only good news, says one London shisha lounge operator.
Westminster City Council has ordered the operators to carry the warnings similar to those displayed on cigarette packaging to raise awareness of the risks of smoking shisha.
The local authority says shops selling the vapourised tobacco and herbal based products smoked through water pipes, traditionally called hookah, must be treated the same as tobacco-sellers under the new rules.
Shisha has long sat in a grey area, leaving council licensing bosses nationwide wondering how to approach the looming public health issue on their turf.
Westminster has announced it will begin applying the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations to shisha too, and has been educating local cafes and bars selling the products about how to apply the health warnings.
(Image: Syon Lounge)
Ali Salman runs three shisha bars including Syon Lounge in the Hilton Hotel Syon Park, previously crowned the best in the UK and London, Beirut Nights on Abbey Road, and the Hart Lounge in Southgate.
He says he will soon open a fourth lounge - and he has welcomed the move.
The water pipes used at his premises are already displaying the labels, he told us.
Mr Salman doesn’t drink or smoke himself.
But he said customers had a right to be warned about the health risks and product information in the same way tobacco and alcohol was labelled.
And he believes some of London’s rogue operators have put shisha lounges in a bad light.
"I think the perception is that shisha places are bad and that’s not fair, and not right," he said.
"There are quite a lot of lounges out there that don’t follow the law, they just do whatever and they don’t respect they have to follow the law. I work with the specific regulations and the tobacco companies, always."
He believes shisha bars are gaining popularity around the UK because they give people a place to socialise in a setting where they were not focused on drinking alcohol.
"A lot of people come for the food, they come for the atmosphere - it’s the new pub," he said.
(Image: Syon Lounge)
Large numbers of the borough’s shisha bars cluster around Edgware Road.
A report to councillors earlier this month said that since December 2018 Trading Standards teams had visited more than 20 shisha premises.
Operators were given the labelling and also urged to ensure that the smoking products they were selling met legal requirements.
Some people don't seem to be worried enough.
The council’s health leader, Cllr Heather Acton, said she believes some people smoke the flavoured shisha vapour thinking it is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes.
Shisha tobacco can cause heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases and nicotine addiction, and the herbal versions also carry health risks.