What is Shisha?

Shisha is a specially prepared tobacco that is heated to produce smoke which bubbles through a bowl of water and into a long hose-like pipe to be breathed in. Shisha pipes have a mouthpiece fitted to inhale the smoke. The tobacco can come in different flavours and sometimes it’s mixed with a dark brown sugar (called molasses sugar), often making the smoke smell sweet. It is usually heated by burning wood, coal, or charcoal.

The Health Act 2006

The Health Act 2006 makes it a requirement to keep indoor public places and workplaces, including work vehicles, smoke-free. These smoking laws also apply to water pipes whether the shish product being smoked contains tobacco or not. The legislation was designed to protect workers and members of the public from the serious health risks of second-hand smoke.

What are the offences?

  • Failure to display a no smoking sign - up to £1,000 if prosecuted and convicted by a court or £200 fixed penalty notice on whoever manages or occupies the premises.
  • Smoking in a smoke free place - up to £200 if prosecuted and convicted or a penalty notice of £50 on the person smoking.
  • Failing to prevent smoking in a smoke free place - up to £2,500 maximum fine on whoever manages or occupies the premises if prosecuted and convicted.

If your business supplies shish in water pipes to customers, you need to do so legally. Following this guide will enable you to do this, but failing to comply may result in prosecution or having your pipes and shisha tobacco seized and your customers being fined.

Where can customers smoke?

As with smoking a cigarette the smoking of shish/water pipe is not permitted within substantially and fully enclosed public spaces or workplaces because of the smoke free laws. 

Water pipes can be smoked in open air when there is no roof or ceiling above the smoker. They can also be smoked in some circumstances where there is a roof or ceiling, but only if at least 50% of the walls of the structure are permanently open. Any opening that can be closed - for example by a door, window, or shutter is counted as closed. So, unless your business has access to a legal smoking area you will not be able to supply shish in water pipes.

Planning consent

If you are thinking of constructing or changing the structure or use of a building for, use as, a smoking shelter, you may require planning permission. Planning permission may also be required to use any part of a property for a shish smoking lounge.  More information is available on the Planning page. A pre-application advice service is available to anyone thinking of submitting a planning application, which can help reduce the likelihood of submitting an invalid application and overcome issues that may impact on its success.  For further information, please visit our Planning advice page.

Health & Safety of Employees and Customers

Supplying shish will involve additional risks which you should assess and control. Risk assessments must be documented where you employ five or more staff. Risks include infectious diseases, burning charcoal and spillages. Staff should be trained to control the risks and respond to incidents.

You should also take the additional risks into account when completing the Fire Risk Assessment and Emergency Plan for the premises. You can get more guidance on these requirements from Kent Fire Service Contact us | Kent Fire and Rescue Service (fire-uk.org). Fire exits should be unlocked and clearly signposted.

To minimise the transference of infection, water pipe mouthpieces and hoses should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected between users. Disposable mouthpieces are recommended. If your staff light the pipes, they should use their own personal mouthpiece and then put a clean one onto the pipe.

It is important that users of shish are made aware of the health issues. A misleading but commonly held belief is that smoking through a water pipe ‘purifies’ the smoke.

What can I sell and who to?

You can only sell tobacco products that have been legally imported into the UK - anything imported illegally could be seized by Trading Standards, HMRC or the Police. The vast majority of shish products containing tobacco are not imported legally and will not have had the required duty paid on it.

No tobacco product can legally be supplied to anyone under 18 years old. Given that water pipes are normally shared, you must check the ages of the whole group and any friends who subsequently join them. It may be sensible to allow only over 18s into the premises.

Licensing considerations

Although smoking is not a licensable activity. A potential breach of an existing premises licence may occur if you significantly change your business activity and change the nature of use of premisesA licence and its conditions normally pertain to specific business activities and the lay-out and design operating at that time. Proprietors of licensed premises with smoking zones should be aware of any restrictions within their licence. For advice about any licensing matter please contact the council’s licensing team on licensing@gravesham.gov.uk

Noise nuisance, anti-social behaviour and criminal activity

If your business is in or near a residential area, it is your responsibility to make sure that your activities do not create a noise, lighting, smoke, or other nuisance for your neighbours. Further information is available on our Environmental page or by emailing ep@gravesham.gov.uk. You are advised to monitor premises by use of CCTV and if any anti-social behaviour is experienced or recorded, it should be reported to the police.

What will happen if you ignore this advice?

Illegal shish businesses will not be tolerated in Gravesham. Non-compliant businesses risk receiving fines or being prosecuted and can expect regular visits from the council and their partners until we are satisfied the place is compliant with relevant legislation. If you are licensed to sell alcohol, your licence may also be at risk.

Where can I get further advice?

The council would much rather achieve compliance through advice than by taking enforcement action but will not hesitate to take action against those who continue to fail to follow the rules. If you have any questions or need further advice, please contact the team on Commercialhealth.admin@gravesham.gov.uk.