In one of the surprising discoveries in a long time, the majority of Kenyans are still smoking shisha despite a government ban on the commodity.
In December 2017, the then Health Minister, Cleopa Mailu banned shisha smoking in the country saying it had encouraged the peddling of hard drugs.
Contravening the law would attract a fine not exceeding Sh50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.
Smuggling has been blamed for the continued use of banned shisha, especially in entertainment spots.
In a revelation made during a stakeholders meeting called by the Tobacco Control Board in Nairobi to regularise the ban as ordered by the high court, Health Ministry said that the government has not licensed any importer or outlets to trade in shisha, confirming fears that the banned tobacco product is finding its way into the country illegally.
“I can confirm to you that nobody has been licensed to import or sell shisha in Kenya and so those who are doing so are engaging in illegal business contrary to the law,” asserted Dr Kepha Ombacho.
Stakeholders comprising government agencies, anti-tobacco advocates, shisha users and sellers, heard that sale and use of shisha is still rampant.
The big question that remains unanswered is why the authorities are not cracking down on these importers.
Shisha is still widely sold in the country, especially at nightclubs and is popular among socialites and sportspersons.
The tobacco control advocates said a re-evaluation will help determine how effective the ban has been, discuss the challenges experienced during enforcement of the ban and expose those who are colluding with the clubs to sell it.
“Shisha is banned meaning it is not supposed to be available even in use but we have increasingly seen and heard that there are still some establishments that still sell shisha. That means that there is a collusion of people working together to blatantly break the law,” Celine Awuor said.
“These products are imported so it means they must be passing through a certain entry border point. I think it is probably being perpetrated by corrupt individuals who are just out there to make money and just blatantly defy the laws,” she added.
Shisha is a glass-bottomed water pipe in which fruit-flavored tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal.
The tobacco smoke passes through a water chamber and is inhaled deeply and slowly.
Experts warn that a single shisha session is the same as smoking hundreds of cigarettes.
According to the World Health Organisation, the volume of smoke inhaled in an hour-long shisha session is estimated to be the equivalent of smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes.
A report released by Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance in conjunction with the University of Nairobi, disclosed that abuse of the substance is especially rampant in nightclubs, bars and a few restaurants in the capital, a situation attributed to lack of awareness of its ban and the health dangers it presents.
Kenya became the fourth country in East Africa to prohibit shisha, after Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.