NEW DELHI: Hookahs should be exclusively served in designated smoking rooms and not in dining areas, says the law. But hookah bars get away with breaking the law by paying a fine of up to Rs 500!
“Enforcement is a problem because the guest who is smoking and the restaurant can only be fined only Rs 200 under COTPA and Rs 500 under the Delhi Prohibition of Smoking and Non-Smokers Health Protection Act, 1996. This is a paltry amount for a restaurant as they charge between Rs 500 and Rs 1,200 for a single hookah,” said Dr SK Arora, Delhi state tobacco control officer.
“Small fines are no deterrent. A fine of Rs 200 or Rs 500 may deter an individual , but the only thing restaurants fear is getting their licence cancelled,” said Dr Arora.
The Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling states that hookahs can be served only in the “smoking rooms”. Smoking rooms, according to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, should be separate from a restaurant. They should have separate ventilation so that nonsmoking clients and staff are not passive smokers.
Most restaurants claim they serve only tobacco-free herbal flavours. “Most add nicotine, which is addictive, because they want clients to come back. But even if the mix is tobacco-free, it can only be smoked in smoking rooms,” said Dr Arora.
Delhi banned hookah bars in 2012, but they have been flourishing since the ban was lifted in December 2014.
“Flyp @MTV is all about music and entertainment, we do not promote smoking, but we keep sheesha as people ask for it. If we don’t have it, we would have to turn away people,” said a management personnel from the cafe, where 20-35 people ask for hookahs each day.
“Over the past 18 months, hookahs have become so popular that even parents let their kids try out different flavours. It is considered safe,” said Chandra Prakash, operating manager at Ardor in Connaught Place, which has a separate smoking area for hookah lovers.
But most of the 10 restaurants visited by the reporter don’t restrict hookahs to smoking areas. They also provide food and drinks in the smoking area, claiming their herbal mixes are tobacco-free.
Majority of the people coming to Junkyard Cafe in Connaught place order hookah with their meals. “We don’t let people smoke indoors. But hookahs don’t smell bad, so we serve it with food,” he said.