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Fines issued to shisha customers

6 August 07 11:35 GMT

Manchester's first fines for breaking the new smoking ban have been issued to customers at a shisha cafe.

Environmental officials gave the £50 fines to three people caught smoking shisha waterpipes at the Shesha Lounge in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.

The council is now considering taking the owners of the cafe to court.

Shesha Lounge bosses said it was a heavy-handed interpretation of new laws and are planning a High Court challenge to seek an exemption.

The fruit-flavoured tobacco is popular in several Middle Eastern countries and there are about 20 shisha cafes in the north west, mostly concentrated in south Manchester.

Environmental health officers raided the Shesha Lounge on Cheetham Hill Road last week and fined the three customers.

Manchester council revealed they are considering legal action, which could bring a £2,500 fine, after complaints from the public.

Officials have visited a total of 3,000 pubs, restaurants and shops since the ban came into force last month.

Many Manchester cafes now only serve shisha pipes on outdoor patio areas.

Enthusiasts say cafes which offer shisha, also known as hookah or nargila pipes, should be exempt on cultural grounds as they are popular with Muslim customers as an alternative social space to pubs.

Jawad Butt, co-owner of Shesha Lounge said: "Business is now very difficult. The only way we can keep the pipes is if we have them outside but we are on the first floor.

"We spent thousands and thousands on this place and selling coffee and food will not cover our overheads. Having the pipes was one of the main attractions.

"The legislation has been too heavy-handed and it will kill off this tradition for good."

Mr Butt and other Manchester cafe owners are part of a national campaign to win an exemption for shisha smokers.

The group has already lodged papers with the High Court and is now trying to raise £20,000 to support a judicial review of the ban.

Deputy council leader Jim Battle said: "The council has tried to work with businesses, including Shesha Lounge, to achieve compliance.

"However, the approach of this business left the council with no choice but to take action. Despite our best efforts, Mr Butt chose not to comply."

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