By Karane Tuhirirwe
Shisha smoking which is said to have originated from Asia has picked up in Kampala as a lifestyle for most socialites. It has quickly spread like bush fire and you won’t miss the sight of a group of shisha smokers in many upscale and downtown hang outs. Due to this worrying trend, the media has been awash of stories of how Parliament is now considering to completely ban it from Uganda.
Shisha has generally been defined as a glass-bottomed water pipe in which fruit-flavoured tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal. The tobacco smoke passes through a water chamber and is inhaled deeply and slowly; the fruit-flavoured tobacco tastes smooth and smells sweet.
According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) a shisha smoking session may expose the smoker to more smoke over a longer period of time than occurs when smoking a cigarette. Also, due to the method of smoking—including frequency of puffing, depth of inhalation, and length of the smoking session—shisha smokers may absorb higher concentrations of the same toxins found in cigarette smoke.
Further research by the WHO shows that the volume of smoke inhaled in an hour-long shisha session is estimated to be the equivalent of smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta USA reveals more worrying statistics on the effects of shisha smoking rise. A typical 1-hour-long shisha smoking session involves 200 puffs, while an average cigarette is 20 puffs. The volume of smoke inhaled during a typical shisha session is about 90,000 milliliters, compared with 500 to 600 milliliters inhaled when smoking a cigarette
However while reading The Guardian, I landed on an article that seemed to suggest otherwise! Dr Kamal Chaouachi, a tobacco expert who teaches at Paris IX University refers to the WHO findings as alarmist in nature raising the fact that there has not been enough research on the long term effects of shisha smoking! According to Chaouachi, studies led by independent researchers at the Royal University of Saudi Arabia have shown that shisha smoke is 30 times less concentrated in chemicals than cigarette smoke, contradicting the WHO’s warnings.
“It is ludicrous and anti-scientific to claim that shisha smoke is 200 times more toxic than cigarette smoke,” he says. “While about 5,000 chemicals have been identified so far in cigarette smoke, chemists and pharmacologists from Saudi Arabia only found 142 chemicals in shisha smoke. Also, a medical team in Pakistan found that shisha smoke can be much less carcinogenic and radioactive than cigarette smoke.”
So before we embark on banning Shisha, have we carried out enough research in this field to legitimate our resolute? Have we gone ahead to exploit other avenues through which we can legally regulate this kind of smoking to protect both the passive and actual smokers from the likely health dangers
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which was signed and ratified by Uganda in 2005 and 2007 gives us simple guidelines on which we can regulated the tobacco industry. These are basically Price and tax measures as well as non-price measures to reduce the demand for tobacco products.
These include Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke, Regulation of the contents of tobacco products, Regulation of tobacco product disclosures, Packaging and labelling of tobacco products, Education, communication, training and public awareness. Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation
life is not a dress rehearsal and we as Ugandans should face the problem of tobacco head on. We should not be fooled into believing that the dangers of shisha smoking are way different from those of cigarette smoking. One is bound to suffer from oral cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, cancer of the esophagus, heart disease, complications during pregnancy among other things!
The degree of harm shouldn’t blind our judgment into legislating to ban shisha smoking and letting cigarette smoking go on. Let’s solve the tobacco debacle in unison. If shisha is to be banned cigarette smoking should be banned as well and if cigarette smoking is to be regulated the same should be done for shisha smoking. Let’s pause research and act!
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