Representatives of the hookah industry received recommendations from Rospotrebnadzor on how to organize work in the midst of a pandemic. They were offered a traditional set of requirements, including restrictions on customer and staff contacts, the use of masks, and special rules for the use of hookahs. However, as Kommersant found out, the agency’s recommendations are not of an official nature, and the regional authorities in any case make decisions at their own discretion. This does not actually change the situation for the segment of the consumer business, which has found itself in a serious crisis. According to the observation of market participants, at least 20% of players have closed their establishments.
Rospotrebnadzor gave its response to the methodological recommendations of the hookah industry during a pandemic, proposed by the Association of the Hookah Industry (AKI) and the Moscow Business Ombudsman Tatyana Mineeva. In a letter dated June 4 (Kommersant has a copy), the agency recommended that hookah shops provide their customers with a separate hookah or mouthpiece. Also, in places where smoking devices are processed, there must be instructions on how to wash them, and visitors cannot have access to the equipment used by staff.
Such points are also offered to carry out the typical precautions in the midst of a pandemic – to monitor the temperature of employees and guests, limit contacts that are not related to collective tasks, and use personal protective equipment. However, even the observance of these conditions does not guarantee the smooth operation of hookah lounges. According to a letter from Rospotrebnadzor, the work of these institutions during the period of epidemiological restrictions is determined by the regional authorities independently.
The department told Kommersant that this letter should not be regarded as officially adopted guidelines. “Our specialists sent their comments on the draft rules for the operation of hookah bars prepared by the AQI,” they specified. The association admits that the letter of the department does not remove the restrictions. At the same time, they add there, in the conditions of the existing uncertainty, such establishments can be fined 50-500 thousand rubles. depending on the nature of the violation.
The lack of uniform recommendations and a consolidated decision of regional officials in relation to the hookah industry for almost a year after the lockdown was lifted does not allow such establishments to resume legal work in many regions of the country, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Mari-El, Adygea and Buryatia, says AKI representative. On Monday, it was not possible to receive operational comments from the Department of Trade and Services of Moscow, as well as from the administrations of the above regions. Asya Zakatova, President of the Hookah Union “Assistance”, expects to address the regional administrations with the strictest restrictions, armed with a letter from Rospotrebnadzor. “In such a situation, officials are unlikely to take into account the letter of the department, since this is only the point of view of Rospotrebnadzor,” warns Stanislav Danilov, partner of the Pen & Paper Bar Association.
Initially, a similar situation was with the participants in the catering and fitness industry, who last year sought the Rospotrebnadzor’s approval of official guidelines and decisions of regional authorities on their establishments. At the same time, restaurants, fitness rooms and the beauty segment managed to achieve their goal, which allowed them, after the lockdown, to resume work in almost all regions with a number of restrictions.
During the pandemic, hookahs found themselves under another blow after the country’s authorities at the legislative level recognized hookah as a tobacco product in the fall of 2020. This led to a ban on its sale in catering establishments. At the same time, Rospotrebnadzor and the Ministry of Industry and Trade issued clarifications that such establishments can serve customers if they do not offer food and drinks. To continue working, they say in AKI, hookah bars began to change the OKVED “Activities of restaurants and cafes” to other codes, including the organization of leisure and entertainment.
According to Aleksey Vasilchuk, co-founder of the restaurant group Restart Vasilchuk Brothers, in order to legally work with hookahs, catering establishments will have to organize halls with a separate entrance and without the sale of food. However, even with such an organization of hookahs, this is on the verge of the law, since smoking in catering establishments is prohibited, Asya Zakatova insists. According to Asya Zakatova’s estimates, restrictions related to the unfavorable epidemiological situation and the ban on working in public catering led to a reduction in hookah bars in the country by at least 20%.