BLACKBURN Council is calling for all shisha bars to be licensed following the seizure of dozens of illegal pipes.
Police have been given permission by the courts to dispose of 38 pipes seized from a Blackburn cafe in the biggest single haul ever seen. But because the owner of the pipes could not be traced, nobody could be prosecuted for their illegal use.
Council leaders have written to Anna Soubry, the government’s public health minister, asking for a licensing system to be introduced.
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They want the power to:
* Ban under 18s from entering shisha cafes
* Require proper identification for all cafe operators
* Allow for the forfeiture of equipment from unlicensed premises
* Restrict proxy sales of tobacco to under 18s,
* Give authorities, including the police, the opportunity to vet license holders.
A council spokesman said: “The only thing the council can regulate them with at the moment is smoke free legislation.
“What we are calling for is for these places to be licensed and for the government to give us more power.”
Blackburn MP Jack Straw backed the council’s call for licensing. He said: “I would very strongly support it. I think it’s obviously a public health issue, but it’s also a public order issue.
“I visited one of these premises unannounced but the door was controlled by CCTV and it took a few minutes for me to gain access, and all I can say is there was a strong smell of smoke inside the premises.
“These are a substitute for pubs and they have to be licensed properly, like pubs.
“In my view they need to be licensed, because underage children are using them.
“When I visited, although everybody said they were 18 I had my doubts.”
Smoking shisha is not illegal in itself, but under current laws premises must act within the restrictions of the smoking ban, which means shelters where it is smoked have to be 50 per cent open to the air.
Although it is illegal for under 18s to smoke shisha, it is common practice for young people to be present in places where shisha is being smoked, putting them at risk from passive smoking.
Police have also spoken of their concerns about some underage teenagers smoking shisha illegally in Blackburn. The average shisha-smoking session lasts an hour and research has shown that in this time smokers can inhale the same amount of smoke as from more than 100 cigarettes.
Like cigarettes, shisha contains nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead, putting shisha smokers at risk of the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smokers, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and problems during pregnancy.
In addition, there are health implications from sharing the pipe, including a risk of catching TB, herpes and gum disease.
Councillor Shaukhat Hussain said: "Current legislation does not act as a sufficient financial deterrent and a number of shisha bars frequented by the residents in Blackburn with Darwen flout the small penalties imposed on them and continue to operate in an illegal manner.
“This council is also concerned that shisha smoking has a detrimental impact on the health of those young residents of Blackburn with Darwen who undertake this activity and, in addition, that there are potential safeguarding issues caused by the unregulated nature of some shisha bars."
The 38 shisha pipes were seized by officers when a warrant was executed at Velvet, located above Floors N Doors, in May last year. Police, sniffer dogs and staff from the council’s public protection unit stormed the lounge, where it was found an illegal shisha den was operating.
Two girls aged 13 and 15 were taken to a place of safety and the venue was permanently shut down.
Nobody admitted to owning the pipes and so police said it was necessary to take them away to avoid any further offences being committed. Sgt Nick Everett, who works in Blackburn town centre, said it was important residents told them where shisha was being smoked illegally so that officers could take action.
He said: “As a result of community intelligence a warrant under Misuse Of Drugs Act was obtained and executed at Velvet, Weir Street, Blackburn.
“Police solicitors attended Blackburn Magistrates Court on February 24 and were given an order for disposal of the items under the Police Property Act.”