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Pressure mounts to free Nigerian youths from deadly shisha

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Smokers having a Shisha session in a club

The male and female attendants were busy at the poolside bar of a five star hotel in Port Harcourt, Rivers State attending to customers.

Then a question came from a middle-aged man, do you have Shisha here? Do you want some?

The male attendant asked. That is not the answer to my question, the man retorted.

Well, Shisha (a glass-bottomed water pipe in which fruit-flavoured tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal) is available and sells for N2500 per pot, he finally answered.

That conversation confirms the prevalence of Shisha use across the country notwithstanding a recent pronouncement by the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, prohibiting Shisha bars in public places in Nigeria.

The Guardian’s investigations reveal that the product is still widely sold and patronised in hotels, clubs, big restaurants, bars and other public places, especially among the youths, who are ignorant of its deadly effects.

Thus, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano and other major cities across the country, Shisha is still very much in vogue among Nigerians of all classes and status.

More worrisome is the fact that ladies are being attracted to the product while youths of school age glamourise and smolder the product without restraint.

For instance, Ebere Ogbu, the female bar attendant at the five star hotel off Olu Obasanjo Road in Port Harcourt, had dismissed insinuations that Shisha was harmful, insisting that the product was only a flavoured substance in the semblance of tobacco.

Ebere, who studies Tourism and Hotel Management at a popular private university in Ado-Ekiti, argued in favour of Shisha but she was advised against indulging in it because of its grave health implications.

“Stay away from it if you want to enjoy a bright, promising future after your education.

It is highly addictive but help yourself and stop taking it, if you were already in it,” an older fellow who was having a drink at the poolside bar of the hotel, had advised.

Indeed, the product is openly advertised with inscriptions as Shisha Pot Available Here: Changes In Price, and sell for between N2500 and N3000 per pot depending on the city and part of town.

But clubs in Allen Avenue, Victoria Island and Lekki in Lagos charge between N3000 and N5000 per pot.

Curiously too, the Shisha notice is sometimes placed side by side with alcoholic beverages like wines, beers and other regular drinks in bars with their price tags.

However, experts have warned that Shisha intake constitutes grave heath risks to its users, as one doze (or session) of the product, according to experts, amounts to over 200 sticks of cigarettes.

Speaking to The Guardian at Rose Gardens, Sophia Akaeze, who resides in Abuja, but visited Lagos recently said: “I started taking Shisha in the belief that it was safer than smoking.

I was made to believe that it makes ladies look sexy, attractive and have a sense of belonging to a special class.

“But each time I take it I fell deflated with a fiery feeling inside.

It looks like all my vital organs are set on fire after taking several dozes. The only challenge is that it has become addictive and it is obvious I have to quit now.”

Magdalene Michael, who resides in Lagos, said she was on the brink of collapse due to her addiction to Shisha.

Her words: “I used to smoke cigarette and even Indian hemp.

But then I got hooked to Shisha in 2012 and since then my health has deteriorated beyond imagination.

It’s a silent killer contrary to what its makers made us believe at the beginning.”

Joseph Okoh, who lost his job in Lagos in 2014, but relocated to Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 2015, said he got hooked to Shisha through some friends during his idle time in the city.

He said having got back to work, he was presently working on quitting Shisha intake, but regretted that he has been noticing strange feelings in his system.

“I was advised to go for medical check up but I am afraid of the result. I used to smoke but quit smoking a few years ago only to get into a worse habit,” he lamented.

Speaking to The Guardian on the shisha menace, Executive Secretary of the Africa Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) Dewan Mohee, cautioned users that the tobacco industry would stop at nothing to engage African youths in patronising their products.

While sensitising the public on attempts by the industry to replace Africa’s dying generation of tobacco users, with younger smokers and patronisers of their products, tobacco control advocates had also described the development as ‘Africa’s perfect storm.’

Corroborating Mohee’s argument, the Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), also advocated total ban of Shisha, urging the Nigerian government to completely ban Shisha and other deadly tobacco products, as had been done in Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and other African countries.

It Deputy Executive Director and Chairman of ATCA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, had cautioned that except the Federal Government did something drastic about the menace of tobacco industry, Nigerian youth face a very risky, gloomy future with regard to their health.

“The announcement made during the 2018 World No Tobacco Day commemoration in Abuja on June 4 was timely and long expected by the public health community.

As we have said time and time again, Shisha is a tobacco product and it contains nicotine and other harmful substances.

“Unfortunately, the tobacco industry and marketers of this lethal product portray it as less harmful and even chic.

Ladies are made to believe that it makes them look sexy and appealing. We have equally seen entertainers and celebrities glamorise Shisha and circulate themselves in Shisha bars on social media.

“This deceptive narrative is what the Ministry of Health is targeting in its charge for a clampdown on Shisha bars.

It will save the youth from moving from frying pan to the fire and we anticipate that security agencies will not wait for any other directive before enforcing this life-saving charge,” he stressed.

Also speaking in an interview recently, ERA/FoEN’s Head of Media and Campaigns, Phillip Jakpor, pointed out that recent study by the University of Nairobi found Shisha had traces of opiates, and concluded that smoking the product has effects similar to smoking an overdose of tobacco.

“The National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Lung Association have all released reports detailing shisha as harmful and deadly.

“In fact, it was the horrifying findings that informed the decision of many countries to ban the product.

These findings necessitated our earlier call this year on Nigeria to also take the prohibition path. We are elated that the minister hearkened to this call,” he stated.

Besides, a global health organisation, Vital Strategies, in a recent report said deaths from lung cancer caused by tobacco products (including shisha, the new bride) increased from 1.6 million in 2012 to 1.7 million in 2016.

Its President and Chief Executive Officer, José Luis Castro said: “Tobacco use–the leading risk factor-is increasing in many low-and middle-income countries.

These countries can avert the deadly and costly growth in tobacco-related cancers, but they must act swiftly.

“Adopting high tobacco taxes (and in the case of Nigeria, banning shisha) is the single most effective but least implemented policy to reduce tobacco use.

“The United Nations high-level meeting on Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in September provides an opportunity for countries to make public commitments to the effective use of tax as a cancer prevention tool,” he stated.
 
In 2016, lung cancer accounted for nearly 20 percent of the 8.9 million cancer deaths.

It is the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and second most common cause of cancer-related death in women, after breast cancer. 

This burden is largely preventable as 80 per cent of lung cancer cases are related to smoking, according to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. The remaining cases are linked to air pollution and other environmental exposures including asbestos in the workplace and secondhand smoke and having a family history of lung cancer.  

Tobacco control advocates in Nigeria, however, commend the ministry of health and it determination to ensure the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) is implemented to the letter, adding: “We believe the path to achieving that is not too far from now judging by what has happened in the last three years.”

More worrisome is the fact that in spite of the provisions for outright ban on shisha and other related harmful products in the NTCA, it remains in wide circulation in Nigeria, making it readily accessible to youths and students who are obviously unaware of its dangerous affects.

Section 9 of the NTC Act 2015 actually banned smoking of tobacco products (including shisha) in public places.

It states: “Smoking in public places is now banned in Nigeria. Section 9 of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act 2015 stipulates that offenders, once convicted, are liable to a fine of not less than N50000 or not less than six months’ imprisonment, or both.

“Public places where smoking is prohibited by law in Nigeria include: Child care facilities, educational facilities, health care facilities, playgrounds/amusement parks, public parks (gardens), stadia, restaurants/bars, public transportation parks and plazas.

In its commitment to ensure the law is enforced, the Federal Ministry of Health assured that it will actively collaborate with law enforcement agencies to ensure enforcement and the National Assembly to ensure that necessary supporting regulation is passed.

But presently, there is nothing on ground to show that the Federal Government has started to enforce the Act, even as youths and students continue to have a field day in their reverie in taking the lethal product.

Except for those who have been experiencing the harmful aftereffects of Shisha, it is hard to convince new recruits of Shisha smokers that the product is harmful-a subtle strategy of the producers who have added addictive flavours to the product.

It is in this regard that ATCA and tobacco control advocates such as ERA/FoEN, the United States (U.S.) based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) and their African partners are calling for the total ban of the product. They warn succinctly: “Shisha kills, keep off!”


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