‘I don’t want The Curry Mile to become The Shisha Mile’: Is waterpipe smoking taking over Rusholme?

By Mihaela Ivantcheva

Apple – the traditional and most famous shisha flavour. “It is almost solely smoked in some Middle Eastern countries and they sometimes even look at you funny if you order anything but apple!”, says Ali Waheed, Area Manager of Mr Flavour nationwide events company tailored towards a Moroccan and Middle Eastern vibe.

Shisha is one of the biggest services that Mr Waheed offers to his customers. Hookah smoking originates in ancient India and dates back hundreds of years ago. Today, smoking shisha, also known as waterpipe or narghile, is practiced worldwide. Its fame is also spreading across Manchester.

However, the police and councillors do not share the excitement about shisha’s growing popularity. They are increasingly putting the stoplight on Manchester shisha bars that provide waterpipes for people to smoke flavoured tobacco.

Especially ‘affected’ seems to be Rusholme and in particular the Curry Mile where shisha bars are taking over the other outlets. A massive 30 new shisha bars have opened their doors in Rusholme in the last two years.

This trend seems to worry the council that started the new year with the determination to crack down on shisha bars in Rusholme that are taking over the other outlets.

Kate Chappell, Councillor of Rusholme Ward, believes that a good and sustainable mix of retail outlets in Rusholme would help the district to thrive. “We feel that the implosion in the number of shisha bars over recent years is to the detriment of other outlets and the overall area,” she said.

Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar also expressed concerns about the cumulative effect that shisha bars are having on the area. Businesses are complaining that illegal shisha bars that are extremely profitable businesses are inflating the rents of commercial properties in the District Centre. However, it is not only the negative business impact that worries the councillors.

The Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have confiscated illegal tobacco from certain shisha bars. Others are openly breaking the indoor smoking ban. In addition to his, residents from the neighbourhood have repeatedly complained about incidents of anti-social behaviour resulting from late night visits to shisha bars.


The 2007 indoor smoking ban

Shisha bars are bound by the 2007 indoor smoking ban and can only operate if there is at least 50 per cent aeration in the vicinity.

To comply with the indoor smoking laws, Mr Waheed organises shisha smoking only outside in marquees. He said: “We have obviously made the relevant changes to comply with the law. Maybe it is time that all shisha bars have to too?”

According to Mr Akbar and Miss Chappell however, most of the shisha bars in Rusholme are violating the law by providing shisha service indoors.

Apart from fears that many of the bars are not abiding the law in regards to indoor smoking and illicit tobacco, there is also a growing controversy surrounding the health risks associated with hookah smoking.


Adverse health effects or just the usual misconception

Mr Waheed explains the measures that are being taken to protect the health of the shisha lovers. Each waterpipe is sterilised after each event to prevent bacterial infections and every customer has their own personal mouth tip for hygiene reasons.

“As any form of smoking, it [shisha] can’t be good. As to exactly how bad it is there are many theories. Considering the average molasses has approx 5-10 per cent tobacco in it and the rest being molasses (sugar) and dried fruit, my personal opinion is that smoking cigarettes daily is much worse for your health than moderate shisha use,” says Mr Waheed.

Contrary to the popular belief that inhaling tobacco from a waterpipe is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, research confirms that the smoke emerging from the waterpipe contains numerous toxicants known to increase the risk of lung cancer, heart disease and several others.

While the water does absorb some of the nicotine, waterpipe smokers are exposed to a sufficient amount of nicotine to cause addiction.

According to the World Health Organization, a waterpipe smoker may inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale when consuming 100 or even more cigarettes.

“Although, I am not against shisha bars because they are part of Middle Eastern culture, I feel they should not be allowed to break the law and the visitors to these premises must be fully aware of the health consequences of shisha smoking so that they can make an informed choice,” Mr Akbar said.


Hookah smoking as a social ritual

However, taken all this into account, shisha remains an integral part of Muslim social life.

“Shisha is seen as a critical component to a middle eastern event, making the shisha service very popular,” confirms Mr Waheed.

And although Mr Waheed understands the council’s frustration with the growing number of shisha bars in Rusholme, he stresses the vital role that shisha bars play in the social life of the Muslim community.

“With a high Muslim community in the area shisha bars provide a social environment, which is more accepted than going to bars/pubs. The right to socialise should never be taken away but as the council it is their responsibility that this is done in a safe, law-abiding environment.”


Stained reputation

However, Mr Waheed agrees that the reputation of shisha has been partly tarnished by all the controversy of shisha bars not complying with certain laws. “Having a shisha can be a great experience but over 30 shisha bars in the Curry Mile vicinity is excessive in my opinion,” he said.

Mr Akbar who has regarded the crackdown on shisha bars as a priority since being elected as member of Rusholme ward in 2010, has been working with Miss Chappell, the GMP, the Rusholme Traders Association, the NHS Primary Care Trust, local resident groups and other organisations to formulate a multi-agency partnership approach to tackling the shisha problem.

Mr Akbar said: “I do not wish The Curry Mile to be renamed as The Shisha Mile!”

Photos courtesy Ali Waheed, Area Manager of Mr Flavour.

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