Someone needs to sit outside the Sahara Cafe in Blackburn and film all the kids going into the place.
CHILDREN as young as 12 are blowing their pocket money in illegal shisha dens at weekends.
Teenage boys and girls aged up to 16 are travelling from across the area and paying to go into flats in Blackburn town centre on Friday and Saturday nights.
Trading standards said each weekend around 100 youngsters visiting the dens are risking their health by using unfiltered tobacco for several hours at a time.
Children are coming from as far afield as the Ribble Valley, but also Blackburn and Darwen, according to police.
One 12-year-old teenage girl from the Ribble Valley even spent all of her £30 birthday money on two to three hours in a shisha den in Darwen Street, police said.
Her concerned parents found out and alerted police.
Shisha cafes can be licensed but they must adhere to strict health and safety guidelines, as well as smoking legislation, including only selling products to adults and not allowing smoking 'inside'.
They must also prove they have paid duty on the tobacco to Revenue and Customs.
Police are also concerned about the youngsters’ overall safety in visiting the ‘off the radar’ private dens.
Head of public protection for Blackburn with Darwen Council, Chris Allen, is overseeing multiple investigations into the shisha dens.
He said that from 'menus' his officers have seen at one premises, smokers were charged between £5-£6 per session.
Mr Allen described the dens as ‘Bedouin-style’ premises decked out with floor cushions, drapes, and said 'dodgy wiring' and hot coals were ‘fire hazards’.
He said: “What we usually find is upwards of 20 or 30 people in these upstairs rooms and we’ve seen places where there are 30 to 40 shisha pipes available.
“This is an emerging issue countrywide, not just in Blackburn with Darwen, and if any local authority is doing its homework they’ll find a problem.”
Mr Allen said he believed the illegals dens had arisen out of a ‘competition from the number of cafes in the area’ and ‘people looking for some alternative income streams’.
He added: “The reason why this is proliferating is the profitability which comes from selling shisha and the access to the pipes.
“This is one which seems to have caught the imagination.
“My message to children would be that the health implications of shisha smoking will be felt by all who take part in it, but the younger someone starts to smoke, the greater the risk of them suffering ill-health in adulthood.”
Some of the premises have also been described as 'fire hazards' because of the number of people packed into them and a lack of safety checks.
Mr Allen said trading standards and the police would have to prove the dens were not ‘private rooms’, but being used on a commercial scale.
Town centre licensing officer Andy Duxbury said: “We are not trying to ruin anyone's legitimate business or stop their culture.
“But we have a real concern about schoolchildren spending Friday and Saturday nights in these places.
"They are paying money to smoke the flavoured tobacco and their parents don't know where they are.
“We have a lot of intelligence that it is children from 12 to 16, from all races, using them as social meeting places in the town centre.
“Our main concerns are the premises themselves and the health risks to the children.”
Prosecutors at Blackburn magistrates have previously said there was a problem in the area with businesses operating as a facade for owners to charge for smoking.
But the authorities, lead by Blackburn with Darwen Council's trading standards and environmental health, which prosecute illegal dens, say it is not just premises attached to takeaways which are the problem.
A growing issue was people renting out a room on the pretence that it is a private flat.
Police said this was to try and get around the smoking ban – which applies to public places – by saying it is not a business.
PC Duxbury said the council, police and revenue and customs had around six illegal shisha dens in their sights.
He added: “We are doing what we can to enforce the legislation, but we need the help of parents to take responsibility.
“It may only be tobacco and not an illegal drug, but they are under-age, it is addictive, bad for their health and who knows what else they could be exposed to there?
“It used to be predominantly in the Asian culture, but in the last few months it has become a real mix of children meeting socially at these places.”
Check out the number of kids waiting for the sahara cafe,darwen st. to open saturday lunchtime...all of them white kids,no asians,I wonder why...could it be just another way of undermining this society. I suggest you do the job your paid to do mr. Duxbury and apply the law. The double standards existing in towns like Blackburn should at least ring some alarm bells somewhere. As for the L.T. promoting racial hatred...Some of our asian "friends" need no help whatsoever, they are very adept at doing this all on their own.