Edmonton councillors to reevaluate shisha ban despite a decade of debate

Just two years after banning shisha smoking in public, and a decade after concerns were first raised, Edmonton city councillors will once again consider whether the bylaw needs to be looked at.

Council appears split on whether the move is necessary or a waste of time and resources.

On Friday, Ward Sspomitapi councillor Jo-Anne Wright brought forward a motion in hopes of having city staff work with the shisha industry.

She said she has heard concerns that the debate in 2019 did not effectively consult with the cultural communities that were impacted.

There were public consultations but Edmonton Hookah Cultural Society lawyer Avnish Nanda argues specific cultural groups were not reached out to.

“It’s different from saying, ‘hey, we’re impacting your community and you may not even speak English, let’s figure out what your views are’,” Nanda explained.

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Read more: Edmonton hookah advocates calling for lifting of ban

The ban was already revisted in 2021 when hookah advocates called for it to be lifted, arguing the rule had driven the industry underground.

Multiple health advocates, including with Alberta Health Services, raised concerns that even without tobacco, smoking is dangerous and potentially addictive.

At the time, councillors said they wanted assurances there could be changes to ventilation to ensure there were no ill effects of the second hand smoke.

Nanda says they can now provide that.

“We went and we hired an engineer and we developed a modelling program and engineered a solution where none of the shisha consumed and any of the smoke that was released would be exposed to any of the staff members at any of the shisha lounges,” Nanda said, explaining that the lounges would have designated shisha smoking areas.

“They’ve done the work that was requested of them back when council debated it in ‘20 and ‘21 so I just think it’s an opportunity for them to bring back the work and try to mitigate some of the OHS concerns that AHS brought forward,” councillor Wright told Global News Friday.

Read more: Smoking shisha in bars, lounges officially banned in Edmonton as of July 1, owners hoping to find workaround

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Ward pihêsiwin councillor Tim Cartmell did not support the move.

“I see nothing compelling here that says we should reexamine this.”

Cartmell was on council when the ban was debated and passed. It went into effect Canada Day 2020. He said looking at the bylaw again will eat up valuable time and money.

“We’re going to have a month long budget conversation that’s going to have all kinds of work for our administration starting in January,” said Cartmell.

“Redoing the old work … it takes away from the actual new work.”

But Wright, who was not on council during the discussion, disagrees.

“I do appreciate the time that previous council had put in on it but I don’t think they were necessarily provided with all the information, all the data and this additional work that the industry has done,” she said.

The Community and Public Services Committee decided all of council should have a say on the next steps.

That will happen on November 14 when they will either decide to revisit the ban with additional consultations or not make any changes.

If they do move forward, city staff would be asked to provide details on potential changes by the summer of 2023.

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