Shisha lovers were on Thursday dealt a huge blow after the Government banned its sale in the country.
Also reeling from shock are restaurants and night clubs which have been making a fortune from the water-pipe tobacco, popular with young urbane revellers across the country.
The government, through a Gazette notice banned the importation, manufacture, advertising and sale of the product in Kenya.
“No person shall import, manufacture, sell, offer for sale, use, advertise, promote, facilitate or encourage shisha smoking in Kenya,” say the notice by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu.
It warns that anyone found contravening the rules will be “liable to a fine not exceeding Sh50,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.”
“If the offence is of a continuing nature, a further fine not exceeding Sh1,000 for each day it continues will be imposed,” he added.
Medical services director Jackson Kioko said: “Our decision for the ban is informed by all aspects…from social to health and is also guided by scientific evidence of the negative impact of smoking shisha.”
The directive titled “The Public Health (Control of Shisha Smoking) rules 2017 comes one month after Nakuru County warned bar owners against promoting the smoking of shisha in undesignated places.
The warning came after the Tobacco Control Board raised the alarm over the increasing number of women using the substance. Former Naivasha MP John Mututho recently called for the ban.
Kenya now becomes the third East African country to ban shisha smoking after Tanzania and Rwanda. Other countries which have outlawed it are Pakistan, Jordan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
Shisha is 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 using a single or multi-stemmed smoking instrument. The tobacco tastes smooth and smells sweet, enthusiasts say, making it an enjoyable and unrushed experience.
Also called narghile, water-pipe, hookah or hubble bubble smoking, shisha smoking has recently become more popular with young people across the world.
The World Health Organisation however singles out Asia, Africa and the Middle East as the regions where the highest rates of smoking occurs.
Since 1990s, the UN Agency adds, water-pipe smoking “appears to be spreading among new populations such as college students and young persons.”
“Although empirical evidence is lacking, anecdotal evidence for Algeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania indicates a proliferation of fashionable hookah bars in the larger urban centres in all these countries, which are frequented mainly by the young and business people,” notes a recent report by the agency.
Shisha smoking, the agency says, is often social and two or more people may share the same water-pipe, exposing its users to infectious diseases such as TB and hepatitis.
According to a WHO study group on tobacco, the habit appears to be stimulated by unfounded assumptions of relative safety compared to cigarettes as well as the social nature of the activity.
“Commercial marketing, often with implicit or explicit safety-related claims, may also be contributing to the spread of water-pipe smoking across the globe,” it noted.
In Kenya, as the habit continues to kick in, there has been a growing public debate on whether or not the government should step in and regulate it.
A study titled Traces of Opiates in Shisha conducted by the University of Nairobi cited the occurrence of traces of narcotic drugs in the substance.
According to the study, out of a total of eight samples of shisha products analysed, all tested positive for drugs derived from opium, including morphine and heroin.
According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey of tobacco use among 13–15 year-olds, the use of tobacco products other than cigarettes increased in 34 of 100 sites surveyed, which was largely attributed to rising water-pipe use.
The Health agency recently said shisha may expose the smoker to more smoke over a longer period of time than occurs with a cigarette.
Litres of smoke
“Cigarette smokers typically take eight to 12 cigarettes with 40 to 75 millimetre puffs over about five to seven minutes and inhale 0.5 to 0.6 litres of smoke. In contrast, water-pipe smoking sessions typically last 20-80 minutes, during which a smoker may take 50-200 puffs which range from about 0.15 to one litre each,” said the agency.
The water-pipe smoker, the health agency argued, may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.