A number of French mayors have banned the smoking of hookah pipes in their municipalities. They insist that the ban is a public order issue, but critics have accused the mayors of attacking ethnic minority customs – which they say will raise racial tensions.
So far at least four mayors in south-west France and one in the Paris region have made it illegal to smoke hookah pipes in public following complaints from locals, The Times has reported.
Used to smoke flavoured tobacco known as shisha, hookah pipes, which are traditionally associated with the Persian Gulf and North Africa, have become popular in Europe and particularly in France in recent years.
Charles Scibetta, mayor of Carros, near Nice, said he was moved to ban them because the 20 local youths who gathered in his small town were sowing fear among local families. He added that the pipes were a “social and sanitary plague”.
He said that 180 people had written to the police to complain that the ban was designed solely to keep voters from backing the Front National, but argued “Should we do nothing? Wouldn’t that be giving the National Front a free run?”
Critics meanwhile have said the bans are another example of France turning against its immigrant minority populations following a wave of Islamic terrorism.
Officials have countered that the ban has nothing to do with religion, pointing out that some Islamic clerics are also against hookahs, but rather are a public order issue.
The bans follow similar proscriptions on the wearing of the burkini on French beaches, an issue which has split the country over the last few months.
Around 30 towns, mostly in south-east France, have implemented burkini bans. Cannes mayor David Lisnard said he had signed off on a local ban out of “respect for good customs and secularism” – a founding principle of the French republic.
The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also lent support to the ban, arguing that the burkini was “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic”.
But in late August the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, ruled the bans were illegal saying that they transgressed “freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”. The ruling forced the towns to overturn their bans.