Hookah no more?

The business model of a large proportion of Moscow bars is under threat as a proposed government ban on smoking promises to wipe out one of the most popular items on Moscow menus – the hookah pipe.

The bill proposed last week by the Health and Social Development Ministry would ban smokers from all public places by 2015, with no exception for fans of the wildly popular Middle Eastern pastime.

Woman smoking hookah at Moscow

Woman smoking hookah in Moscow

Although exact statistics are difficult to obtain, experts in the industry estimate that around 70 percent of cafes and bars in Moscow offer hookah pipes, or kalyan as it is known in Russian.

Smoking hookah is a social activity designed for bars and cafes and, unlike smoking cigarettes, not easily transferred to private homes. Smoking bans in Britain and other parts of the EU allowed cafes to continue serving hookah only in outdoor areas, a suitable solution for Russia for the long summer evenings, but not much good in the sub-zero winters.

Bar owners say it is unfair to include hookah in the same bracket as cigarettes, since it does not emit carcinogenic fumes dangerous to passive smokers.

“Bars and restaurants will lose a large proportion of their guests if they are forced to stop selling hookah,” said Mamed, a sales manager at Kalyanschiki, a firm which provides hookah waiters to cafes across the city. “Many hookah smokers are people who have given up smoking cigarettes and use it as a way to relax.”

Guram Micke, an administrator at Uzbek restaurant chain Chaikhana No. 1 says she has never had a single complaint from a customer about other guests smoking hookah.

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