UNDER 16s visiting a town centre shisha cafe are regularly being taken home late at night by concerned police, it has been revealed.
Blackburn police said each week youngsters, aged between 13 and 16, were visiting the Sahara shisha lounge in Blackburn causing concerns about their welfare.
The news prompted MP Jack Straw to issue a plea to parents to make sure they know where their children are.
It comes after the manager of the cafe was fined £1,520 for failing to stop customers smoking inside the Darwen Street premises on two occasions.
It is not illegal for young people to visit shisha lounges, but they are not allowed to smoke or buy tobacco under the age of 18.
Mr Straw said: “It’s not long ago that my children were teenagers. It’s hard keeping track of them but you have to do it because if you don’t you never know where they are.
“My appeal to parents is, for their sake, look after your kids. There are lots of people out there who will simply exploit them.”
Environmental Health officers visited Sahara accompanied by police on September 7 and November 9, last year and found a number of people smoking shisha pipes and cigarettes inside enclosed areas of the building.
Manager Adi Jaber, 28, of Arncliffe Avenue, Accrington was fined a total of £1,520 for the breaches by Blackburn magistrates.
The court heard Mr Jaber, who did not attend court, had been given ‘ample opportunity’ to comply with the law and that this was his second set of offences contravening the smoking ban under Health Act 2006.
Smoking shisha poses the same health risks and diseases associated with cigarette smoking but can be more damaging as smokers typically use shisha over a longer time period.
A one-hour shisha session is reported to provide the same amount of toxins as between 100 and 200 cigarettes.
Sgt Dave Clarke, of Blackburn town centre policing team, was present on the raids.
He said: “During several of the visits, we found large numbers of children in the premises. In November, we were forced to take 13 children aged between 13 and 16 home in police car.
“The situation is getting better but we are still having to remove young children on a regular basis.
“Town centre police have been visiting the Sahara on a weekly basis since it was caught breaking the smoking ban.
“Every week we are taking groups of children we deem to be at risk, home to their parents.
“I urge parents to ask where there children are going and if they are coming back smelling of smoke to press the issue and find out where they have been.
“If children are constantly going missing and turning up at shisha cafe’s against their parent’s will, this can be treated by police as an abduction offence.”
According to Blackburn with Darwen Council there are 16 shisha venues in Blackburn town centre .
Nine have been fined since 2008 and one received a conditional discharge for contravening the smoking ban.
Chris Allen, head of public protection at the council, said: “We are making a determined effort to tackle illegal shisha businesses in the borough.
“Where advice is being deliberately ignored robust enforcement action will be taken to try to protect people from the significant health hazard from second hand smoke.”
The council’s executive board member for children’s services, Maureen Bateson, said: “It is really important that parents know where their children are going. Not just where they say they are going, but where they are actually going.
“Youngsters like to congregate in warm places that are not necessarily safe places.
“I would say to parents, for God’s sake make sure your children are safe.
“The police are obviously concerned about this as they having to take children home to parents on a regular basis.”
Hyndburn Coun Noordad Aziz has also raised concerns about young people being tempted to smoke while gathering in shisha bars.
He said: “Personally, I would like to see a minimum age restriction placed on shisha cafe’s.
“Hyndburn council recently passed a motion to write to the Department of Health on this very issue.
“Young people from the borough often travel to Blackburn specifically to visit shisha cafes.
“For us the safeguarding of the borough’s children is of paramount concern.”
It is legal to smoke in a shisha bar if 50 per cent of the premise’s wall area are missing.
Customers found smoking inside enclosed public places are committing an offence and could face a fine of £50.
Mr Jaber was yesterday unavailable for comment.