The July 12 decision of the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services Regulation and Coordination to request the Ministry of National Health Services to relax ban on sheesha smoking in Pakistan has evoked strong emotions on both sides of the debate.
The committee chairman, Senator Mian Ateeq Sheikh, has favoured a lifting of the ban to facilitate businesses and enhance tax revenue. He believes the activity should be regulated instead of being banned altogether.
However, any debate on the subject must consider the serious health risks of sheesha smoking. According to WHO, smoking sheesha for one hour is the equivalent of smoking 200 cigarettes. In one puff of sheesha, a person inhales as much smoke as when smoking a whole cigarette. Furthermore, sheesha tobacco contains cigarette tobacco, which means that it contains nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.
Sheesha smokers are, therefore, at risk for the same diseases as cigarette smokers i.e. heart diseases, cancer, respiratory ailments, etc. Some people mistakenly think ‘herbal’ sheesha is safer. It is not. And, even if you use tobacco-free sheesha, you are still at risk from carbon monoxide and any toxins in the coal or charcoal used to burn the sheesha.
Add to these health hazards, the dangers of second-hand smoke, dental hygiene issues and the health risks of sharing sheesha pipes with other smokers, and you’ve got an unhealthy activity on your hands.
And regulating sheesha cafe activity wouldn’t alleviate its health hazards or the strain it would impose on an already overburdened healthcare system. It is important to emphasise here that, in the current situation, an essential step the government must take is to disseminate information among the public on the harmful effects of sheesha smoking.
Once that is effectively done, people are likely to overwhelmingly support a ban on the activity. Thus, while businesses may be affected, there are pressing health reasons to continue the sheesha smoking ban.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2019.