A Birmingham study into air quality inside shisha bars is to be handed into Government health chiefs in a bid to secure greater enforcement powers for local authorities.
The report, commissioned by Birmingham City Council, found that customers in 12 shisha bars across the city experience pollution levels higher than those in smog-hit Beijing.
The investigation, carried out by University of Birmingham researchers and environmental health officers, found dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – substances linked with respiratory illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, bronchial asthma, lung cancer and low birth rate in pregnant women. Most shisha contains tobacco – tobacco smoke is a known carcinogen.
Now the Birmingham report and dossier of evidence is to be presented to Department of Health and Chartered Institute for Environmental Health amid calls for councils to be given greater powers for tackling businesses that put the health or customers or employees at risk.
Under smoke free legislation it is illegal to smoke shisha in an enclosed public space, or a space that’s mostly-enclosed.
Businesses face fines of:
- up to £2,500 for allowing smoking in a smoke-free place
- up to £1,000 for not displaying a no-smoking sign
Jacqui Kennedy, Acting Strategic Director of Place for Birmingham City Council, said: “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.”
University of Birmingham researchers and environmental health officers found levels were significantly higher than those experienced in pubs and bars prior to the smoking ban, introduced in England in 2007.
The study – the first in the UK to measure CO and PM2.5 concentrations, published in Science of the Total Environment – also found:
- 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 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 μg/m3 / shisha premises 255 μg/m3 )
- Compared to PM2.5 levels recorded in Beijing (137 μg/m3) – a city known for its air quality issues – those found in Birmingham shisha bars were nearly double that (255 μg/m3)
- Evidence that PM2.5 leaks out into the immediate environment outside shisha premises, potentially affecting local communities’ health.
- 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.