• There are some frightening facts linked to smoking of the pipe among them being that shisha smoke contains high levels of chemicals and poisons
• Shisha smokers naively try to downplay the negative effects of their use by claiming that the toxins contained in the shisha tobacco are eliminated after passing through water
Shisha smoking has slowly but steadily managed to crawl back into the country, despite its ban by the government in December 2017.
So widespread is the vice nowadays that it is almost common practice in major entertainment joints. I has even found its way deep into the rural towns where young people are puffing their way to the grave.
Shisha smoking, also called narghile, water pipe, hookah or hubble bubble smoking, originates from the Middle East and certain areas of Asia. It is a way of smoking tobacco through a bowl with a hose or tube joined on. The tube has a mouthpiece that the smoker uses to breathe in the smoke. However, the smoking pipes used in shisha bars and cafes may not be cleaned properly, risking the spread of infectious diseases, such as TB and hepatitis.
In 2017, Kenya implemented a comprehensive ban on shisha, including the use, import, manufacture, sale, offer of sale, advertising, promotion, distribution and encouraging or facilitating its use.
The country became the fourth country in East Africa to prohibit shisha, after Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. But even after the ban, shisha is still widely sold in the country, especially at nightclubs, and is popular among socialites and sportspersons.
In 2014, before the ban was undertaken, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, barred 19 shisha flavors found to contain bhang, heroin and cocaine. In the activities preceding the ban, 79.2 per cent of the shisha samples collected tested positive for heroin.
Contravening the law would attract a fine not exceeding Sh50,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both. This bold step saw a surge in anti-smoking campaigns by civil societies steered by the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance, which pushed for immediate implementation of the ban.
Shisha usually contains tobacco which is sometimes mixed with fruit or molasses sugar. Popular flavours include apple, strawberry, mint and cola. Wood, coal or charcoal is burned in the shisha pipe to heat the tobacco and create the smoke.
There are some frightening facts linked to smoking of the pipe among them being that shisha smoke contains high levels of chemicals and poisons, including carbon monoxide and tar. Several of these chemicals are known to cause mouth and lung cancers, heart disease, respiratory and other diseases.
Shisha smokers naively try to downplay the negative effects of their use by claiming that the toxins contained in the shisha tobacco are eliminated after passing through water.
Unfortunately, and this is scientific, even though it has passed through water, the levels of toxins in shisha smoke can be as high or higher than in cigarette smoke. In a shisha session lasting 60 minutes, a smoker can inhale as much smoke as a cigarette smoker would inhale from 100 - 200 cigarettes. It is also true that secondhand smoke from shisha is an extremely harmful mixture of tobacco smoke and smoke from the fuel (charcoal).
In a country such as ours that has now moved from being a mere transit route for narcotics to being a market, there is very high possibility that adulteration of shisha with heroin could soon become an endemic problem. There is also a likelihood that shisha may be emerging as a concealment route for heroin trafficking.
Shisha smoking has gradually become popular in Kenya among young people, especially in cities and towns with many bars. Flavored brands, such as fruit shisha, have become particularly popular, with young people attracted to shisha's romantic allure, it is seen as fashionable and glamorous. For between Sh500 and Sh3,500, depending on the location, two to five friends can get a shisha pot to share.
The sight of shisha in most pubs is an open secret, and as a matter of fact, smokers no longer hide in special rooms anymore. People gather for shisha smoking sessions at lounges, cafes, bars and some prefer to do it at home in a cool environment, to enjoy it without any interference.
Most current tobacco users started smoking between the ages of 20 and 24, while others were initiated between the ages of 17 and 19.
Simon Mwangi is the manager, Corporate Communications at NACADA