Shisha smoking—which is fast becoming a popular fad among the youth in Kenya— is as harmful as cigarette smoking, Health experts warn. Tobacco Control Board Chairman, Prof Peter Odhiambo says those peddling the false notion to youth that shisha smoking is “safe”
By Mike Mwaniki
“The marketers –who are peddling this false notion on shisha to our youth—are high priests of deception… “No smoke is safer than the other.
In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that a puff of shisha is equivalent to smoking 100 to 200 cigarettes due to the amount of smoke inhaled during shisha smoking,” Prof Odhiambo, who is a leading cardiologist and a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s College of Health Sciences warned that Kenya was “sitting on a time-bomb’’ due to the high number of shisha smokers.
Experts says in Kenya, a majority of shisha smokers are mostly female university and college students who are lured into the vice in the false belief that the habit is not only harmless but also trendy. The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETAC) chairman, Mr Joel Gitari describes shisha smoking as “appealing and attractive” as it sold in a variety of different flavours and unlike cigarettes—has no tobacco smell.
Shisha smoking—which is fast becoming a popular fad among the youth in Kenya— is as harmful as cigarette smoking, Health experts warn. Tobacco Control Board Chairman, Prof Peter Odhiambo says those peddling the false notion to youth that shisha smoking is “safe” are lying.
“However, a majority of consumers don’t know how harmful this habit is and that is why it has picked up so fast in Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakuru and Kisumu among other towns… “There is a high-level of ignorance (on health implications). In fact, shisha smoking is more lethal than cigarettes due to the quantity of smoke a consumer inhales without a filter,” Mr Gitari added.
At the same time, the problem is compounded by those who buy shisha as “birthday gifts” and smoke it in their homes in the presence of siblings and other relatives and friends during such occasions.
Speaking to Health Business Magazine, Mr Gitari described tobacco as one of the major single leading cause of Non- Communicable diseases in the country. According to the latest Global Youth Survey, in Kenya 1.5 million youth— and 2.5 million adults—smoke shisha, cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“Girls are particularly vulnerable as they find shisha smoking to be more attractive and trendy… “Once they get hooked and addicted to the harmful habit, it becomes a gate- way to cigarette, bhang and other drugs,” Mr Gitari noted.
Mr Gitari said although a majority of the girls are unable to finance the habit— they get “sponsors’’—to foot the bill. “It is an expensive habit which is particularly appealing to this group of girls… “A majority want to put up a show that they are liberated and is part of the “culture shock” they experience once they join university. It is folly of the youth,” the official observed.
Mr Gitari urged the Government to increase taxation on tobacco products saying high taxation not only leads to the reduction in the number of smokers but also discourages children from joining in the habit due to the cost.
“Research has shown that high taxation works magic (in reducing the number of smokers)… “ T h e W H O f o r e x a m p l e recommends that the level of taxation should be 70 per cent,” At the same time, Mr Gitari took issue with National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich who recently changed taxation laws in the country without consulting the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and other stakeholders.
“The new taxation will now make certain brands of cigarettes to be affordable to the poor since they will be taxed less ignoring the fact that these particular brands happen to be more lethal… “This move is against the WHO Framework on Tobacco Control of which Kenya is a signatory.”
Daily Monitor A local shisha joint The Cabinet Secretary, Mr Gitari said, had “undone” a lot of the work that had been achieved by those involved in mitigating against the harmful effects of smoking in the country.
“There is need therefore, for Mr Rotich to urgently clear the air on this new taxation as the Tobacco Industry should not escape taxation,” Mr Gitari added: “Tobacco is associated with the 3 Ds—Disease, Disability and Death.. “It also results in poverty among those who farm it as for every one shilling that is taxed, the Government spends Sh3 to mitigate against the effects of tobacco”.
The official noted that tobacco farmers, especially in Migori lacked protective gear and suffered from green leaf disease. “During tobacco curing, for instance, the area faces environmental degradation while pregnant women miscarry… “In the process, the homes of the farmers are usually engulfed in (a) smoky environment resulting in the family members acquiring diseases while children become malnourished due to lack of food security as tobacco does not allow mixed farming,”
The Nairobi County Head of Tobacco Control, Mr Anthony Muthemba described shisha as the biggest illicit product in Kenya. “Shisha does not earn this country any tax and it is not listed in the Kenya Revenue Authority inventory… “It is usually brought into the country through panya routes and those who do so declare it as candy flavour where it usually cleared tax-free,” Mr Muthemba noted.
He added: “Shisha has become a big problem in this country with the biggest segment (of smokers) being the youth who are oblivious of the dangers it poses to their health. “They regard smoking shisha as trendy and fashionable and find its flavouring as particularly appealing.” At the same time, the Kenya Bureau of Standards has been unable to set any standards for shisha.
“It is time Kenya borrowed from Uganda and immediately banned shisha in this country… “Shisha smoking has become the public way of using drugs openly as it is sometimes laced with marijuana.” Mr Muthemba disclosed that the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Nairobi County had in June this year conducted a public awareness campaign within the CBD on the dangers posed by shisha smoking. At the same time, the Public Health Official said his department was “unhappy” with the existing areas which had been designated as “smoking zones” within the CBD.
“The smoking zones were constructed by private developers without consultation with the Public Health department and are therefore in contravention of the Tobacco Control Act section 35. “The section gives specifications on how a smoking zone should look like,” Mr Muthemba added.
On Nov 9, the Head of the 1.2 billion strong Catholic faithful globally, Pope Francis outlawed the sale of cigarettes at the Vatican in a bid to lead by example on healthy living.