Why Rwanda banned smoking of shisha

Smoking water-pipe tobacco, popularly known as shisha, poses a serious health risk in addition to damaging the social fabric of a community.
A person smokes shisha. / Marie-Anne Duhsimimana
A person smokes shisha. / Marie-Anne Duhsimimana

Smoking water-pipe tobacco, popularly known as shisha, poses a serious health risk in addition to damaging the social fabric of a community.

While there had been multiple complaints about the youth losing track as a result of Shisha, it was not until last week, that government moved to ban its importation in smoking.

The Ministry of Health directive released on December 14 said the use, advertisement, and import of waterpipe tobacco is banned effective December 15, 2017.

The directive noted that the ban was in line with the World Health Organisation tobacco guidelines pointing to smoking health effects such as being damaging, addictive and dangerous to human lives.

The smoke that emerges from the water-pipe contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer and other heart diseases, according to the ministry of health.

The ministry warned that failure to comply with the directive would attract legal punitive measures.

Following the ban, Rwanda National Police swung into action.

Police officers went to bars and restaurants known for hosting Shisha enthusiasts, mainly sensitising them to abide by the ban.

When The New Times visited some of the popular spots, there were mixed reactions.

“Shisha has been banned; we are no longer selling it. We have to obey government regulations,” said a waitress at a bar in Nyamirambo, a Kigali city suburb.

Managers at two other bars in Remera said they had removed shisha from their menu.

Robert Munyemanzi, who has sold shisha for over 4 years now in Remera, Kigali, said the ban came as a surprise causing him a loss of at least Rwf3 million.

“I had imported products from Dubai ahead of the festive season. I invested in the hope of making some profits on Christmas and New Year festive period. The stock would take me up to next March…you can imagine the loss,” he said.

Within minutes of talking to The New Times, at least 20 people had called Munyemanzi asking for shisha, some of them wanted home delivery.

Munyemanzi said there should have been a prior warning from the Ministry of Health giving them a grace period to finish old stock.

“I think the ministry should have talked to shisha traders about regulation before issuing a total ban,” he said.

Shisha prices in Kigali ranging between Rwf3000 and Rwf5000.

Its customers were from various age groups and gender, but most of them were people who have lived outside of Rwanda, Munyemanzi said.

Medical view

Dr Jean Baptist Rugamba, a general medical practitioner and the director of Ngarama district hospital in Gatsibo, said shisha is a main cause of lung cancer not only for the smoker but also passive smokers.

“Being a vaporised liquid makes it more dangerous than tobacco. Tobacco has nicotine and shisha is made of different substances which may cause cancer,” Rugamba said.

The World Health Organisation warns that water-pipe tobacco smoking contains numerous toxicants known to cause lung cancer, heart disease, among other ailments.

The UN agency says waterpipe tobacco smoking delivers the addictive drug nicotine as it is the case with other tobacco products.

A cigarette smoker generally takes between 5 to 7 minutes a session and inhales between 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke, while water pipe smoke sessions typically last 20 to 80 minutes, during which the smoker may take 50 to 200 puffs which range about 0.15 to 1 liter each, according to the World Health Organisation.

The water pipe smoker may, therefore, inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes, it adds.

While the water does absorb some of the nicotine, waterpipe smokers can be exposed to a sufficient dose of this drug to cause addiction.

It is also likely that the reduced concentration of nicotine in the water pipe smoke may result in smokers inhaling higher amounts of smoke and as a result exposing themselves to higher cancer-causing chemicals and hazardous gases.

Following research that was done on waterpipe tobacco smoking, WHO suggests that it should be subjected to the same regulations as cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Waterpipes and waterpipe tobacco should also include strong health warnings, they should be included in comprehensive tobacco control efforts, including prevention strategies and cessation interventions, prohibiting them in public places as it is on cigarettes and other forms of tobacco smoking.

No punishments yet

Talking to The New Times, Police spokesperson ACP Theos Badege said there is no law punishing a person who sells shisha yet, but enforcing the ban will be in line with a ministerial order.

“We will start to punish the sellers of shisha when the law categorising it as a drug is enacted,” he said.

Badege added that Police will start punishing people after a law governing smoking of the fruit-scented tobacco is passed by lawmakers, which he said could be in the near future.

“A ministerial order that will be published in the Official Gazette will specify punishments for smoking shisha because it will be classified as a drug,” Badege said.

Badege urged the public to help Police enforce the ban by reporting those violating it.

Tanzania and Kenya have also banned smoking shisha in public spaces. Pakistan, Jordan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia no longer accept its importation to their territories.


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