By Tata Mbunwe
The Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji has ordered governors nationwide to enforce government’s decision banning shisha in Cameroon.
The instruction is the content of a message addressed to the governors of the country’s 10 regions recently. The ban came after a study on samples of shisha by the National Drug Control Committee revealed the substance was dangerous to health.
The Ministry of Public Health in a recent report indicated that 46 percent of young people in Cameroon smoke the substance which is a mix of tobacco, molasses (dark brown sugar), glycerine and flavourings, which make the flavor smell sweet.
Shisha is specially prepared tobacco which has been heated to produce smoke that passes through a bowl of water into a horse-like pipe which is then smoked.
Shisha consumption is highly prevalent among young people in Cameroon. Most bars and drinking spots in the country have shisha pipes. People who are rather uncomfortable with smoking cigarette, smoke shisha with greater ease.
The move by government to ban the substance comes after advocacy by some health Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs on its dangers. They had argued that shisha is far more dangerous than cigarettes. Some organisations and medics say an hour-long shisha session is equivalent to smoking 100 sticks of cigarette.
The British Health Foundation has also warned of the dangers of shisha. It stated that Shisha contains substances like nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals like arsenic and lead which are toxic to the system.
“Many people think that drawing tobacco smoke through water makes shisha less harmful than cigarettes, but that’s not true,” the British Health Foundation stated.
According to the British Health Foundation “Like cigarette smoking, these toxins from tobacco-based shisha put smokers at risk of developing: heart and circulatory diseases; cancers; nicotine addiction; respiratory infections and conditions”
Medical experts also say tobacco, which is the leading substance in shisha, is the main cause of four main types of non-communicable diseases viz; heart attack, stroke, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.
Often described as an epidemic, tobacco reportedly kills over six million people worldwide and 600,000 others who are exposed to second-hand smoking.
But, despite tobacco being the only legal consumer product that kills its users and those around them, public smoking of cigarette remains unrestricted in Cameroon.
In the past, the government has taken decisions to regulate the consumption of this deadly substance, but these decisions are hardly enforced afterwards.
In 2016, administrative officials in the North West region banned public smoking during the 10th anniversary of the Cameroon Coalition to Counter Tobacco. This was one year after public smoking had been banned in the Bamenda I Council.
After the November 2019 Parliamentary session, Cameroon imposed a 30 percent tax on all tobacco products including shisha. A 50 percent tax was also instituted on hydroquinone (skin-lightening and bleaching agent) and cosmetic products.
But these products have remained prevalent in the country.
While government makes more money from these increased taxes, tobacco consumers suffer high prices at home but quitting tobacco remains a challenge to many who are addicted.