Toronto’s Shisha Legislation: A Rights-Based Critique

As of April 1st, the Globe & Mail (2015) documents that nearly 70 businesses in Toronto will be forced to close or restructure their livelihoods as a result of the newly passed City of Toronto legislation that bans the smoking of hookahs in licensed establishments. In November of 2015, Toronto city council voted 34-3 to move a legislation banning shisha, originally recommended by the city’s board of health following a Toronto Public Health report that specifically addressed the health impacts of smoking shisha. (Collier, 2015).  While this ban is not the first ban that the City has imposed on smoking in both “public” and “private” spaces, critically examining the city’s history of targeting and criminalizing “ethnic” community immigrant-run spaces highlights the importance of examining this case beyond the constraints of “health” to also include a critical analysis of the impacts on social, political, and economic mobility. This rights-based critique of the ban will not be covering the health impacts of smoking shisha, not because this is not an important conversation but rather because it’s a conversation that has already reached the mainstream and there is sufficient research already being done to address the harmful impacts of nicotine and second-hand smoking. Rather, my work examines the way in which the shisha ban has been projected in popular discourse as a health concern while simultaneously disregarding and erasing the harmful and complex social, political, and economic implications of the shisha ban on community mobility, specifically for Black and Brown youth in Toronto.

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