La Plaka Cafe, Burwood. Photo: Pascale Esber

Shisha café venues fight to survive

From 6 July 2015, the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 will take full effect and all commercial outdoor dining areas in NSW, including hotels, clubs, restaurants and cafes will be smoke free.

With less than six months to go before the new laws are implemented, local Sydney eateries and smoking houses are beginning to feel the grunt – particularly Middle Eastern restaurants and cafes where traditional shishas and argilehs are the main attraction.

La Plaka restaurant in Burwood is famous for its outdoor seating where patrons enjoy smoking shisha, and although owners admit they’ve felt burdened by the new laws they say they’ve had enough time to work on business strategies to minimise loss.

“Yes, the laws are going to impact the business, but we have a strong number of customers who are major fans of our food menu and our desserts, our plan of attack is to up the ante in these areas,” said La Plaka manager, Anthony.

Similary, Sidnees Cafe part-owner John Saaed, has also turned what he initially thought was a drawback into something positive. After reading about the laws,  John realised that the new laws might be kinder to his business than to the other cafes.

“The laws stipulate that you cannot smoke within four metres from the door or dining area, the structure of our business means that our alleyway setting could serve strictly as a smoking area, whilst food can be enjoyed inside. Even though we are worried, we have hope that our layout will work in our favour,” said John.

Whilst cafés have started to strategise a way around the laws, many individuals have voiced their concerns about the over-regulation of the industry.

Lamisa Mush ,22, is a non smoker but feels that lawmakers are looking at things in a purely health-centric way, with no regard for smoking culture and its adherents. “Shishas and Argilehs create really fun and relaxed social scenes, it really adds to Sydney’s recently watered down night life,” she said.

A smoker lights up a cigarette at a Sydney Cafe. Photo: Pascale Esber

A smoker lights up a cigarette at a Sydney Cafe. Photo: Pascale Esber

Joseph Daoud, 23, feels that the laws are justified from a health perspective but is also concerned about the social impact they will have. “Cigarettes and shishas are a legally purchasable commodity on the market, and whilst Australia does not promote their use or purchase, we should still have to freedom to use and enjoy a legally purchasable commodity without restrictions on location whereabouts”.

Peak hospitality industry bodies including the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and Clubs NSW have been vocal about strongly opposing the implementation of a state-wide smoking ban in outdoor dining areas, fearing adverse economic impacts on the industry. But it seems the inevitable new smoking laws will undoubtedly shape a new smoke-free dining experience in New South Wale’s outdoor locations and health industry experts say the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.

The New South Wale Health Department acknowledges the difficulty for many restaurants and cafes offering smoking areas and argilehs and has advised that a public notice campaign about smoke-free outdoor dining will start in May.

NSW Health Director of the Centre for Population Health, Dr Jo Mitchell, said the ban on smoking in commercial outdoor dining areas is the next step in the NSW Government’s efforts to protect the public from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

“There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. Research has shown individuals in typical public outdoor dining areas may be exposed to high levels of second-hand smoke,” Dr Mitchell said.

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