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Birmingham seeks powers to tackle dangerous shisha smoke

City council to present ‘dossier of evidence’ to government on health risks of shisha smoke

A study of air quality inside shisha bars in Birmingham is to be presented to government health chiefs in a bid by the city council to secure greater enforcement powers over such premises for local authorities.

Pollution levels inside Shisha bars in Birmingham were found to be at 'dangerous' levels

Pollution levels inside Shisha bars in Birmingham were found to be at ‘dangerous’ levels

Commissioned by Birmingham city council, the report found that customers in 12 shisha bars across the city experienced pollution levels higher than those in China’s capital city Beijing, which is known to suffer from poor air quality.

The investigation, carried out by researchers from the University of Birmingham and environmental health officers, found ‘dangerous’ levels of carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) inside the bars.

These substances are linked with a range of respiratory illnesses as well as low birth rate in pregnant women, while most shisha smoke contains tobacco, which is a known-carcinogen, according to the council.

As a result of the findings, Birmingham city council announced yesterday (April 28) that it plans to present the report and a ‘dossier of evidence’ to the Department of Health and the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health.

“Of course this isn’t always about enforcement. We also want to educate businesses and their customers on the danger”- Jacqui Kennedy, Birmingham city council

It is calling for councils in the UK to be given greater powers for tackling businesses that “put the health or customers or employees at riskâ€?, arguing that existing legislation in the UK to limit smoking in public places “isn’t necessarily the best way to tackle this issueâ€?.

Smoking legislation

Under existing legislation which came into force in 2007, it is illegal to smoke shisha – or any means of smoking tobacco – in an enclosed public space, or a space that is mostly-enclosed.

Businesses can face fines of up to £2,500 for allowing smoking in a smoke-free designated place and up to £1,000 for not displaying a no-smoking sign.

However, according to Birmingham city council’s acting strategic director for place, Jacqui Kennedy: “We do take enforcement action under the smoke free legislation but existing legislation isn’t necessarily the best way to tackle this issue. The maximum fine is £2,500 but some of these businesses can make that in just one night and we don’t have closure powers – even as a last resort.

“Of course this isn’t always about enforcement. We also want to educate businesses and their customers on the dangers and we now have the evidence to take to the Department of Health and Chartered Institute for Environmental Health to underline the risks.â€?

The council is seeking stronger enforcement powers over shisha premises

The council is seeking stronger enforcement powers over shisha premises

Study results

Study researchers also found that pollution levels inside shisha bars were “significantlyâ€? higher than those experienced in pubs and bars prior to the 2007 smoking ban.

The study is the first in the UK to measure carbon monoxide and PM2.5 concentrations, according to the council, and was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

A number of studies have examined the levels of second-hand smoke created in shisha bars in the US and Europe, but no primary research had been carried out in the UK prior to this study.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Inside shisha premises PM2.5 and CO levels were eight and 11 times greater than outdoor background levels
  • PM2.5 and CO levels were 13 and nine times higher respectively in shisha bars than in five control pubs/restaurants with cooking facilities
  • Levels of PM2.5 in shisha premises were around 43 times higher than those recorded on a busy arterial road (Tyburn Roadside 5.9 ?g/m3 / shisha premises 255 ?g/m3 )
  • Compared to PM2.5 levels recorded in Beijing (137 ?g/m3) – a city known for its air quality issues – those found in Birmingham shisha bars were nearly double that (255 ?g/m3)
  • Evidence that PM2.5 leaks out into the immediate environment outside shisha premises, potentially affecting local communities’ health.

Birmingham city council colleagues received an award last year for their work producing a poster looking at exposure to smoke in the city’s shisha bars (see AirQualityNews.com story).

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