Toronto proposes harsher hookah rules banning use at all enclosed public spaces, patios

The City of Toronto is proposing to take a harsher approach to its hookah bylaw by banning water pipe smoking in all enclosed public spaces and in some outdoor spaces. 

The proposition comes four years after the city first banned hookah use inside all establishments that are licensed or need to be licensed with the city, which sparked outrage and was even challenged at Ontario’s top court. 

The court upheld the bylaw in June 2017, allowing the city to start its crackdown on licensed business offering hookah, a vaping instrument used to smoke shisha, a product that can sometimes contain tobacco, but not always.

The city is holding consultations until the end of this week on its proposed rule changes. The last public engagement session was on Feb. 10, but business owners and residents have until Feb. 14 to submit an online survey. 

“The proposed approach to address hookah smoking will prohibit tobacco and non-tobacco hookah smoking in any establishment in the City of Toronto that is accessible to the public or any workplace, including outdoor patios,” the city states. 

“This prohibition would apply to all establishments in the City of Toronto, including establishments that are not required to have a license from the City of Toronto to operate.”

The city is also proposing to provide its current enforcement officers with new powers to ensure establishments comply with bylaws related to hookah use. 

The consultations are taking place after Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who is also the city’s vice-chair of the board of health, asked in October for a review.

She asked for the Medical Officer of Health to report on the city’s enforcement measures for the current law and for information on the public health risk from all hookah-use. 

“Preliminary data and analysis from Toronto Public Health suggests that the current approach to address the public health risk of hookah-use is not meeting council’s intention,” Wong-Tam wrote in a letter to City Hall. 

She said the data revealed that approximately 24 establishments required to have a business licence from the city are allowing people to use hookah in their spaces despite the bylaw. 

“These non-compliant premises continue to operate despite multiple charges, penalties, and in some cases, temporary closing orders,” she wrote. “Since July 2017, TPH has conducted 287 inspections that have resulted in 102 convictions.”

Some businesses in the City of Toronto, such as those serving food or beverages, are required to have a municipal license to operate, while others, such as accounting offices, dance studios and clothing stores, are not required to have one. 

She adds that at least 20 establishments in Toronto, which are operating without needing a license and are offering hookah services, are not “technically violating” the bylaw because it only applies to licensed establishments.

“This regulatory gap enables the continuation of the public health risk from hookah-use, which is contradictory to city council’s intentions on this issue,” she said. 

Melissa Simone, a spokesperson for Toronto Public Health, said the new proposed approach will treat hookah smoking the same way it treats other substances, such as tobacco, cannabis and e-cigarettes/vapour products. 

A similar rule in Peel Region, which banned water pipe smoking in enclosed public spaces, enclosed workplaces and some outdoor areas, was brought before courts on two different occasions, but the case was dismissed both times. 

Simone told The Vancouver Mail that the city’s proposed approach is based on “cumulative evidence in this area.”

“A number of municipalities in Ontario have pursued similar measures to address the health harms of hookah use, including the Region of Peel and the Region of Durham,” she said, 

The City of Toronto said a report on the consultations and data will be available eventually, but no date has been set yet. 

It will provide details on the “enhanced enforcement powers” that would be given to enforcement officers to deal with hookah use, as well as details on other proposed changes. 

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