In 2018, hookah parlours mushrooming steadily across the city and the suburbs may witness a prohibition with the state looking at various provisions to bring in a permanent ban on hookah, touted as a leisure activity, often used to draw a younger crowd. The administration’s proposal may get a boost after survivors of the Kamala Mills blaze that killed 14 people on Friday claimed that sparks from a hookah might have triggered the fire.
Earlier this week, mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar had asked the Mumbai Police Commissioner to shut hookah parlours. In a knee-jerk reaction, the civic body is now not only razing illegal roof-top restaurants but has also increased pressure to crack the whip against hookah bars.
The Directorate of Health Services (DHS) has forwarded a proposal to the Maharashtra principal health secretary to use provisions under Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code to prohibit hookah use. In Punjab, where hookah is banned, various legislations have been drawn together and enforced, including Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), Poison Act, 1919, Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
Gujarat and Delhi implemented a ban on hookah this year.
While health activists have applauded the state’s decision to prohibit hookah use, hookah parlour owners and hookah smokers claim until there is amendment in the central COTPA, state government cannot bend rules as it pleases.
“Since COTPA does not directly deal with e-cigarettes and hookah yet, we cannot use any section under it. In our proposal, we have advised to use the IPC and the Criminal Code to regulate hookah,” said Dr Pravin Bagade, from the National Tobacco Control Program, Maharashtra.
The move might face resistance.
Vedanshi Saraogi (21) first smoked a hookah with her friends after Class XII and she has been socially indulging in it for the past three years.
“I do it sometimes. The smoke is fun. We visit a hookah parlour once in two-three weeks. If hookah is being banned for health concerns, then a similar ban should be there on cigarettes and alcohol,” she said.
According to Arvind Shetty, the president of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), since hookah parlours do not require exclusive licences to operate, the state lacks an estimate on their numbers.
There are 7,000 hotels and restaurants attached with AHAR in Mumbai. “Among them, hookah parlours form a small percentage,” he said.
Prateek Thakur, who survived the fire at 1Above resto-bar, said hookah sparks displaced by mild breeze led to the blaze that gutted the open-air restaurant in minutes.
In 2011, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) changed rules for smoking zones in restaurants, prohibiting hookah or any serving facility in smoking areas. While the circular was upheld by the Bombay High Court, it was overturned by Supreme Court.
Petitioner Romi Chada, who owns a chain of restaurant-cum-hookah parlours in the city called “Kosmic”, said: “The SC observed that any form of smoking is allowed in smoking zones, which includes hookah. Thus BMC’s circular to ban hookah did not apply under COTPA.”
Provisions under COTPA demand that a smoking area (for hookah or cigarette) cannot be more than 30 per cent of the entire restaurant area. Although, hoteliers admit that in many restaurants, hookah is served in non-smoking areas.
At Above, for instance, hookah was served in the open lounge, accounts of blaze survivors suggest.
In Mumbai, the western suburbs, comprising Bandra and Andheri, and the central suburbs stretching till Thane have several restaurants that generate revenues through hookah. A single hookah, for an hour, costs between Rs 800 and Rs 1,500.
According to Dr P C Gupta, director of Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, just like e-cigarettes, hookah smoking for prolonged duration can cause more harm than cigarette smoking. In its advisory, the Punjab government said one hookah smoker takes at least 20 to 200 drags, inhaling 50 liters of smoke that is both toxic and carcinogenic.
Arun Jha, economic advisor to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said: “We are deliberating on amending the central COTPA to bring provisions that will regulate e-cigarettes and hookah.”