SHISHA smoking has become increasingly popular especially among young people in Zambia and most drinking places are synonymous with the water-pipe tobacco.
With the euphoria of the festive season enthralling the nation, shisha which is a highly toxic substance that is smoked using a hookah (water-pipe) is likely to be one of the substances that will be abused by both the young and old.
A hookah is a single or multi-stemmed instrument for vaporizing and smoking flavoured tobacco, or sometimes cannabis or hashish, whose vapour or smoke is passed through a water basin.
As a water-pipe tobacco, shisha goes by several names including hookah tobacco, maassel, narghile, argile and comes in different several flavours, including fruity, minty, rich and creamy.
While some people claim to ‘enjoy’ the shishas, experts warn that the smoke exposes someone to the highly addictive chemical nicotine as well, as tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.
Some people are drawn to it for being ‘cool’ with patrons flocking to shisha parlours saying it is harmless when in fact not.
A common belief is that the risk of tobacco are reduced since it is purified as it passes through the water.
On the contrary, health experts and the World Health Organisation (WHO) insist that after it has passed through the water, the smoke produced contains high levels of toxic compounds including carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancerous causing chemicals.
Shisha smoke is associated with risks of diseases such as cancer, heart and lung complications.
It is also known to cause complications in pregnant women who are smokers.
I recently came across some school going pupils comprising of girls and boys who are currently on holiday smoking shisha under a tree near Northrise market in Ndola.
There has been growing concern that smoking the fruit-scented tobacco through a bowl and tube could be used to cover up alcohol or drug abuse.
Added to that, there has been report that some users are replacing the water with alcohol or marijuana infused water.
Shisha smoking is very dangerous than smoking because of the amount of smoke inhaled as well as the charcoal used in a typical hookah session.
In fact the WHO says compared to a single cigarette hookah smoke contains 15 times more carbon dioxide and 36 times more tar.
The notion that shisha smoking is less harmful than cigarettes misleads many youths to patronise places where this water-piped tobacco are saved to clients. Although there is a misconception that shishas are not as harmful as cigarette the British Heart Foundation says an hour-long shisha session can be the equivalent to smoking more than 100 cigarettes.
Health campaigners in the United Kingdom have warned of the dangers of smoking shishas, also known as bubbles is very harmful to human lives.
While most Zambian pubs are still stocking on shisha, some countries such as Tanzania and Rwanda have banned them within their territories.
In fact a leading student organisation in South Africa has also called for the age restriction on smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol to be raised from 18 to 21 years , the local Times Live news site reports.
The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) said the two substances “make it hard for young people to achieve academic excellence” and have contributed towards students dropping out of school.
People below the age of 21 who smoked or drank alcohol should be prosecuted and given “harsh sentences… because they seek to destroy the future of South Africa”, the news site said.
Last year, Tanzania banned the smoking of shishas or water pipes over concerns of links with drug or alcohol abuse.
The Tanzanian government said businesses in the country’s biggest city, Dar es Salaam, were expected to stop shisha sales within a specific time frame.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa was reported to have said that shisha smoking was killing future generations.
Shisha smoking is common in many Arab countries and this tobacco containing cigarette was traditionally an activity associated with Arab or Asian groups.
However, as in Europe, it has grown in popularity across society in recent years with most popular bars in Zambia having lounges for shisha smokers.
“Traditionally shisha tobacco contains cigarette tobacco, so like cigarettes it contains nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead”.
“As a result, shisha smokers are at risk of the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smokers, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and problems during pregnancy’’, a report by the British Heart Foundation states.
The report further states that shisha has toxic chemicals in tobacco such as acetaldehyde, aromatic amines, benzene, beryllium, chromium, nickel, cumene, polonium, and polycyclic aromatic which can cause cancer.
Thus owing to its health risks, Rwanda has become the second country in Africa to ban shisha after Tanzania.
Other counties that have imposed bans include Saudi Arabia, Pakistani, Jordan and Singapore.
The Rwandan health ministry has since outlawed the importation, advertising of shisha within its territory over health concerns.
The ban came into effect on December15, 2017.
With the ban now in full swing, Rwandan government is warning of stern action on those who will flout the ban arguing that shisha tobacco smoking is addictive, damaging and dangerous to human lives.
This is because the smoke that comes from a water pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause cancer, heart disease and other related lung diseases.
The WHO in a recent advisory to regulators also recently warned that smoking shisha posed a great risk to one’s health.
In a single session, it said shisha smokers can inhale up to 100 or more cigarettes.
Medical experts warn that while cigarette smokers typically take on average of between eight and 12 cigarettes, shisha smoking sessions last 20 to 80 minutes during which the smoker may take 50 to 200 puffs which range from 0.5 to a litre.
If any of the shisha users has an infectious disease or the pipe wasn’t thoroughly cleaned and a previous user had an infection, the risk of contracting it is very high.
Second hand smoking also poses a threat to many people this is because non smokers who sit near the hookah also consume the carcinogenic chemicals that come from both the tobacco and coal.
In addition to this some of the charcoals used to light up the hookah contain highly flammable chemicals which produce toxicants when combusted such as carbon monoxide and other cancerous causing chemicals.
This causes harmful effects such as periodontal diseases and low birth weight in children.
Authorities in Zambia can therefore emulate other countries in the world where shisha smoking has been banned especially among young people in order to safe guard their future.
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