THIRTY-EIGHT per cent of 14 to 17-year-olds in Blackburn with Darwen claim to have tried shisha, latest figures warn.
The statistics were described as ‘extremely worrying’ by council leader Kate Hollern, who has written to Anna Soubry, the undersecretary of state from public health, to ask the government to bring in a licensing regime for shisha cafes.
Already this year, two shisha cafes have been prosecuted in the borough and two more are being taken through the courts next month.
The action is part of a tough new crackdown on flavoured tobacco in the borough, which has seen a multi-agency task force put in place to tackle businesses flouting the law.
Smoking shisha is not illegal, however cafe owners must follow the rules of the smoking ban.
The legal age for buying tobacco is 18.
Coun Hollern said she was particularly concerned that some shisha businesses were not licensed and were operating ‘underground’, with blacked out windows and entry only granted by a buzzer.
She said: “We, and also our residents, are very concerned.
“It means children of any age can legally go in there and we know of children as young as 13 who have been found in shisha bars.
“The only way to properly regulate them is for the businesses to be subject to strict licensing laws similar to the ones applied to pubs and clubs.
“We have laid it on the line to shisha cafes.
“They need to address legitimate concerns about how they operate and they need to be honest about the potential harm that shisha does.”
The leader added, however, that she believed smoke free legislation would not be enough to solve the issue.
She said: “Clearly we need more powers and the ability to regulate these premises effectively.
“Of course there will be some shisha cafes that operate a legitimate business.
“I invite them to engage with the council on a voluntary accreditation scheme, which they sign up to and can display as a mark of their responsible attitude to these very serious issues.
“We are working with other local authorities and together we are asking the government to take effective action and give us the tools to address this issue.”