Cafe owners expect big hit from shisha ban

They say sales of the tobacco account for up to 80% of takings

A customer smokes a shisha or "hookah" pipe at a cafe on Bussorah St on Nov 4, 2014.
A customer smokes a shisha or "hookah" pipe at a cafe on Bussorah St on Nov 4, 2014. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The Government's clampdown on shisha will hurt business badly, according to most cafe and restaurant owners offering it.

Shops selling the product - which is burnt and smoked through a pipe connected to a water vessel - said shisha sales account for 60 per cent to 80 per cent of their business.

Two shops that have stopped selling shisha in the past year said they have seen a drop of up to 70 per cent in takings.

The ban on the import, distribution and sale of the tobacco product, which starts later this month, was announced by Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim yesterday. Existing importers and sellers of the tobacco can continue to do business until July 31, 2016.

As of last month, there were 16 licensed shisha retailers located in areas such as Boat Quay and Kampong Glam - a number that has dwindled in recent years. There were 47 shisha cafes in 2010, up from just one in 2002.

Last year, 12 out of 23 such cafes in Kampong Glam had their outdoor smoking licences revoked for allowing shisha smoking outside designated areas.

At Going Om, a cafe and bar in Haji Lane, business has dropped by 70 per cent since the shop stopped selling shisha a year ago.

Going Om owner Oliver Pang, 40, said he now focuses on food, drinks and yoga and meditation classes, among other things. Despite his efforts to restructure his business, the shop is still making a loss, he said.

Lebanese cafe and restaurant Tabbouleh has similarly seen a 60 per cent drop in takings since it stopped selling shisha two months ago. Owner Mohamad Slim, 33, said he has already contacted two realtors to help sell the shop in Arab Street.

Mr Slim claims that some shops in the area currently sell shisha illegally, attracting business away from his shop.

Shop owners and managers whom The Straits Times spoke to also pointed out that shisha is imbedded in Middle Eastern culture.

Mr Gaser Aly, 42, a chef at Ceder Grill, a Lebanese restaurant at Boat Quay, said shisha is a part of Middle Eastern cuisine, to be enjoyed after a meal.

Most of the restaurant's patrons are expatriates from the Middle East, he said.

One cafe that is considering closing is Ogopogo, in Bussorah Street.

Shop owner Levine Teo, 35, said he started selling shisha nine months after he opened his cafe 21/2 years ago.

One shop that will not be hit hard, however, is Shiraz Restaurant at Clarke Quay. Shiraz F&B head of marketing Arun Ratnaa said most the restaurant's takings comes from food and drinks.

In a statement yesterday, the National Cancer Centre said that it strongly supports the shisha ban.

Shisha smokers whom The Straits Times spoke to expressed their unhappiness over the ban.

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