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Shisha bars flouting smoking ban, says public health service
Shisha bars in Belgium are “out of control”, according to Paul Van den Meerssche, head of the tobacco and alcohol department of the federal public health service. While the trendy bars where a shisha pipe is smoked among friends are sprouting up like mushrooms across the country, they are not adhering to the regulations regarding smoking in public places, he says.
In shisha bars, also known as hookah lounges, customers can order a shisha pipe, which is filled with a fruity or spicy mix of tobacco, molasses and vegetable glycerol. The pipe is passed around among friends, and this social aspect is making the spaces more and more popular in Belgium.
But Van den Meerssche says that 70% of the bars are flouting the country’s smoking ban. “In bars, concert halls, public spaces and special events, we have seen that the smoking regulations are to a large extent being followed,” he told De Standaard. “But there’s one big red flag, and that’s shisha bars. The situation there is completely out of control.”
Belgian law prohibits smoking in public places, including bars and clubs. Establishments may, however, provide smoking rooms. The room cannot, however, be more than 25% of the total surface area of the business.
As the very point of shisha bars is to smoke, they usually dedicate much more surface area than that. They are also often not equipped with the legally required ventilation systems and ignore the rule that no food or drink can be served in the smoking room.
CO2 levels 10 times legal limit
Another problem is that the tobacco products are nearly exclusively being imported from the Arab world and do not conform to Belgian regulations for tobacco packaging.
Van den Meerssche’s biggest concern is the lack of proper ventilation as it puts both customers and staff at risk of health problems due to second-hand smoke. In many establishments inspected this year, he said, the CO2 concentration in the room is at 10 times the legal level for the protection of personnel.
“There are more of these bars all the time,” he said. “And they are organising: They warn each other when there are inspections happening.” Fines take quite some time to administer, he said – up to a year.
Mayors, he said, are more effective in the fight against shisha bars that pose a health hazard. “In a dangerous situation, such as a too-high concentration of CO2, the city can close a shisha bar immediately.”