By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A herbal shisha lounge proposed for the Indian Cultural Precinct in Dandenong has been rejected partly due to health and amenity concerns.
The venue at 52C Foster Street planned to offer non-tobacco shisha flavours such as peach, watermelon, mint, strawberry and apple for up to 23 patrons from 4pm-1am.
It would be fitted with smoke exhausts in the ceiling, would not serve meals, and cater for different cultures in individual booths.
A council report was opposed to its health impacts and its dormancy during daytime business hours.
It also took into account noise impacts upon future residents in an area earmarked for high-density living.
The proposal, being exempt from being advertised, had received no community objections.
Cr Matthew Kirwan sought to break down the ‘myth’ that herbal shisha was healthier than tobacco shisha.
Herbal shisha generated up to 200 times more poisonous carbon monoxide smoke than one cigarette, he said.
It also produced more toxins, including heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
According to research supplied by Quit Victoria, herbal shisha produced 27 known or suspected cancer-causing chemicals, Cr Kirwan said.
Cr Sean O’Reilly said it was impractical for council officers to have to check the venue served only herbal shisha and not tobacco-based product.
He said he’d spotted students in school uniform smoking shisha in such venues.
“This council has made its position clear – shisha is not something we want to encourage.”
Proponent Baba Saheed has run Baba Home Entertainment at the site for 19 years.
He was perplexed by the “dumb” decision given that shisha venues already operate in Dandenong’s CBD.
The venue would bring life to a precinct that has been “utterly dead” for many years, he said.
“Restaurants here would be happy. Our customers will come out and have dinner at their businesses.
“My shop will be closing very soon if I don’t get this licence.”
Mr Saheed denied the health effects described in the cited research.
“There’s no side-effects.
“When they say herbal shisha is worse than smoking … that’s just not the truth. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The council has had an advocacy position against shisha and its health impacts since 2013, including in its Community Wellbeing Plan 2017-21.
Despite this, several shisha venues operate in Springvale, Noble Park and Dandenong.
In support of the application, Cr Tim Dark said health objections could equally be made for venues serving alcohol.
There was a need to support businesses in Dandenong’s “struggling” CBD, he said.
Cr Jim Memeti also pointed to the high business vacancy rates in Lonsdale and Foster streets.
“It’s a legitimate business. We should support legitimate businesses.
“We shouldn’t be holding him back.”