Flavoured Shisha Tobacco is Illegal, the Misunderstanding Must Not Continue

Posted by on Aug 18, 2017 in Events, latest | Comments Off on Flavoured Shisha Tobacco is Illegal, the Misunderstanding Must Not Continue

By Wondu Bekele Woldemariam
Executive Director
Mathiwos Wondu-YeEthiopia Cancer Society/www.mathycancersoc.org/

In February 2014, the House of Peoples’ Representative, through Proclamation 822, ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to protect the health of all Ethiopians. The Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Healthcare Administration and Control Authority (EFMHACA) mandated the power to take all actions necessary to implement the Convention.
In 2015, EFMHACA issued a Tobacco Control Directive 28/2015 which is intended to implement Proclamation 822. Products regulated under these laws cover a broad category of tobacco products which includes cigarettes and shisha (hookah) tobacco. The Directive takes a crucial step by including shisha tobacco in the definition of tobacco products to avoid the usual misunderstanding that mistook shisha tobacco as categorically different from tobacco products.
The Directive banned the manufacture, import, distribution and sale of flavoured shisha tobacco. It covers a broad range of banned flavourings including fruit, chocolate, menthol, vanilla, candy, mint, herb and spices. The justification for banning this product is to prevent the appealing effect it have on children. According to researchers, compared to non-flavored products, flavours added into tobacco make the stimulant more attractive and addictive to children.
The studies show a strong association between tobacco initiation by minors and flavouring. In fact, tobacco products having flavours are found to mask its natural harshness and uncomfortable taste thereby making the smoke easier to inhale and draw children into nicotine addiction. Many of these children become addicted before they fully understand the damaging health impact of tobacco use. Hence, the ban is both a necessary and proper public health measure to protect millions of Ethiopian children from nicotine addiction.
Currently, the reality is far from what the law proscribes. According to news reports, the use of shisha tobacco and bars and lounges offering the product are rapidly expanding in Addis Abeba and several other major and small towns. One could easily observe the drastic cultural changes in larger lounges and bars in and around Addis Abeba. What is important to note here is that marketing of a flavoured shisha tobacco in Ethiopia is illegal.
Except for the traditionally used Gaya tobacco, which is used in some parts of the country, shisha tobacco currently offered in bars, lounges, and illegal shisha houses are either imported or smuggled since no manufacturer locally produces them. The predominant brand observed on the market usually contains flavours like orange, apple, menthol, or other similar fruits and herbs prohibited under Article 10 of the Directive.
Besides the lack of adequate enforcement, the misunderstanding among many people that shisha is categorically not tobacco plays a role. This is not unique to Ethiopia, and meaningful public awareness work has to be done. The lack of adequate awareness creates room for the same people to erroneously spread words that all shisha products are legal.
For instance, a prominent radio legal commentator, who had a conversation with the Tadias Addis program host on this very same matter a few months ago (it is available online), claimed that all shisha products are legal. He further contended that police actions against businesses offering shisha and shisha products do not have any legal basis. That is not only wrong but has a chilling effect on law enforcement across the country. The commentator overlooked the ban of flavoured tobacco under Article 10. The truth is that flavoured shisha tobacco has been illegal in Ethiopia since March 2015.
Compliance may not be ensured just by making up laws. The meat of the problem can only be addressed by putting into place strong tobacco control legislations.In this regard; Ethiopia has made a commendable progress by ratifying the WHO FCTC and, despite its limitations, implementing the smoke-free provisions of the Directive. This is mainly due to the government’s political commitment and a cooperative effort by partners.
The same could hold true for the growing shisha epidemic. The law is there, so responsible government officials at all levels must make the matter a priority to save millions of Ethiopian children and adults from nicotine addiction, and the likely subsequent shift towards cigarette smoking. A collaborative work between EFMHACA and the Ethiopian Customs and Revenue Authority will be a particularly cost effective and efficient strategy to control imports into the country.
Finally, the government must take a sweeping legislative action, not just on shisha but all tobacco products, to fully implement the WHO FCTC. With the tobacco industry targeting developing countries like Ethiopia, now is the time for the government to sustain and defend the global recognition given to the country’s public health achievements of the past two decades.
Looking forward to working with all concerned in our joint effort intended to challenge the growing tobacco burden, save lives of our people from needlessly dying from preventable tobacco epidemic & contribute our fair share in transforming our great country Ethiopia in to a better place to live & work.