A WOODEN caterpillar ‘smoking’ an unlit shisha pipe in a shop window sparked a council alert.

An over eager environmental health officer who visited Ewood Florist said the display item fell foul of anti-smoking laws.

He told owner Debbie Schofield the caterpillar may be breaching laws preventing employees from smoking in the workplace.

Debbie said she was astonished when questioned about the Alice in Wonderland inspired display.

She said: “He told me he’d come in to investigate because there had been a complaint that the shisha pipe was contravening UK smoking in the workplace regulations.

“I said, ‘but it’s a wooden caterpillar’, and he said ‘yes, but it’s smoking’, and I said ‘no, it’s not’.

“I really thought someone was winding me up, I wasn’t taking it seriously.

“It’s not even a real shisha pipe, it’s an ornament, it doesn’t work.

“But he didn’t have a problem with the shisha pipe, it was the caterpillar smoking on business premises.

“I said to him, even if it was a real caterpillar the chances of it lighting the pipe were pretty thin, but the fact that it’s a wooden caterpillar renders it impossible.”

Debbie said she refused to let the officer investigate further, and told him to leave the shop in Bolton Street, Blackburn.

She said: “I wouldn’t let him investigate, I said to him ‘if you haven’t got better things to do, I certainly have, you need to leave, I don’t believe it needs further investigating’.

“He said there was a real problem in Blackburn with shisha. I don’t know if that’s with caterpillars smoking it.

“I did think about getting the caterpillar an electronic cigarette, or putting him on patches or something!”

The window display features several characters from the Lewis Carroll novels, including the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar which Alice doesn’t like because it is rather rude and asks difficult questions.

People passing by the shop were taken aback by the actions of the council officer.

Lauren O’Brien, 19, said: “It’s just ridiculous, there’s no need really.

“I don’t really know what to say, it’s just ridiculous.

“It looks like an Alice in Wonderland display, and to be honest, being a florist shop it fits in, because it’s about the great outdoors.”

Another man, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous, I can’t believe it.”

Blackburn Council denied that the officer had suspected the wooden caterpillar was smoking illegally.

Initially a council spokeswoman said that the officer had entered the shop to check that shisha pipes were not being sold illegally. But after it was pointed out that shisha pipes can be sold without a licence, the council instead said that the officer had wanted to check that the florist was not also operating as an illegal shisha den.

Coun Jim Smith, executive member for Environment, said: “We have looked into this matter. The council public protection officer involved in this case was walking past the florist, saw the display and went in to make sure it was not operating a shisha lounge, which can be hard to detect.

“The public protection officer was simply carrying out his duties. We have a job to do in regulating shisha so do need to check on these matters."