By Cam Lucadou-Wells
The floodgates may have opened for more shisha-smoking lounges in Greater Dandenong after a recent state planning tribunal decision, according to a Greater Dandenong councilor.
On 10 June, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal gave the all-clear for a shisha lounge on Cheltenham Road Dandenong, dismissing the council’s public health concerns as irrelevant.
Cr Tim Dark said he was expecting a “flooding” of shisha lounge proposals that had been “banned” by the council.
Within two weeks, he’d received phone calls from six proponents, including one in Outlook Drive Dandenong North that had been refused by the council and VCAT.
Cr Dark said shisha smoking was a legal, legitimate activity, as well as a traditional cultural practice widely used overseas.
“Greater Dandenong Council needs to have a review and a rethink on how they refuse shisha under its policies.”
The council, led by Cr Matthew Kirwan, has lobbied for the regulation of smoking shisha due to adverse health impacts in 2013 and 2015.
Cr Kirwan said the VCAT decision would encourage more applications, though the shisha market was “saturated” in Greater Dandenong.
“The only ones that do well is a shisha venue on Princes Highway Noble Park and the one that’s opposite the Dandenong Civic Centre.
“That’s why I’m skeptical about the (shisha) market.”
Baba Saheed closed his 19-year-old business in Foster Street Dandenong after the council rejected his proposed herbal shisha lounge partly due to public health concerns in March 2019.
Now operating a kebab business in Bayswater, Mr Saheed said the council ought to refund the $3500 he spent on application fees and an engineers report.
“They should have told me not to do it if that was their position.
“I want to know why the council rejected me while other shisha lounges were running.”
In the recent VCAT decision, Member Michael Deidun said it was not the role of the planning system to “effectively outlaw” a “legal and legitimate activity” in Greater Dandenong.
He agreed with an earlier VCAT finding that “town planning is not a panacea for all perceived social ills”.
“It is not the role of this Tribunal to start to regulate the smoking of shisha within the State of Victoria, or determine that its health effects are too significant to allow the smoking of shisha from the review site.”
Quit Victoria director Sarah White was concerned by the possible green light for more shisha venues.
Under state law, councils can only act against shisha lounges if they prove the water pipes contain tobacco.
“The council is trying to do what they can but without that state legislation they can’t really do that.
“There are absolutely health effects.
“You end up inhaling more smoke from a water pipe. People tend to take very deep breaths and hold that smoke in their lungs for longer before they exhale.
“You also tend to chain smoke for 30 minute bursts which you don’t usually find with cigarettes.”
In 2014, the Australian-Lebanese Medical Association’s criticism changed perceptions that a ban on shisha was culturally taboo, Dr White said.
“I’ve spoken to older people in the African community who worry about the impact on young in shisha cafes.”
Dr White said the health risks of smoking in close proximity was heightened during the Covid-19 pandemic.