The question wafting through the air in Nairobi on Friday night was whether the government’s ban of shisha would be effected in recreation facilities.
While a number of establishments — especially those operating in the central business district — did not have patrons enjoying shisha publicly, as it has been happening before, the puffing of the substance went on in the city’s outskirts as if there was no ban.
A woman who works at a top joint in Nairobi’s Westlands told the Nation that shisha consumption among recreation facilities in that area “went on as usual”, with the widely-shared justification being that the ban had been lifted.
“Shisha is still there, for most parts of Westlands,” she said, mentioning two establishments where she witnessed patrons enjoying shisha on Friday night in an area where a person pays at least Sh1,200 to have puffs of the flavoured tobacco.
“The ban may take effect after some time, but only if the government gets serious like it did with the polythene bag ban,” she said.
The notion among some residents that illegalisation of shisha had been lifted was false because an effort by 15 people involved in shisha business to have the High Court lift the sanction failed on Friday when Justice John Mativo declined to suspend the ban imposed by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu on Thursday.
Following the order, and ahead of the hearing of the case on January 4, there are some establishments that have paused the supply — like Sheesha Lounge based at Diamond Plaza in Parklands.
“We filed a petition and are waiting for the way forward. No one is selling it at the moment,” Erick, a contact at the establishment, said on Saturday.
But the continued usage of shisha in other establishments underpins just how popular the substance had become among fun-seeking Kenyans.
The Nation came across several advertisements for entertainment events where the words: “shisha will be available” were included, meaning the substance had earned a place in merry-making events, including house parties.
Also, a number of restaurants have been using availability of shisha to market themselves to potential customers, and a few of them still had the messages yesterday on listing site eatout.co.ke.
While the shisha pots may disappear from public joints, those hooked to it are not short of options on how to sustain their habit.
In a number of Facebook groups for Kenyan users, there are individuals selling shisha pots, with the price starting from Sh2,000.
“Classic shisha pots are available at a discounted price of Sh2,500. To place an order, kindly call me via [number withheld]. Delivery done country wide at a low fee,” wrote one user on Kenya Listings Live on December 1.
“Unique new imported shisha pots available for Sh3,800; medium size 51-53cm. Accessories and flavours also available,” posted another user on Kilimani Mums and Dads Uncensored on November 9.
Some sellers are also peddling electronic shisha machines that can be charged through a computer’s USB port.
There are also pen-like shisha burners that the National Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) in October said are gaining currency in Kenyan schools.
Nacada’s Coast regional officer George Karisa said in a statement that schoolchildren were carrying the gadgets to school and smoking them during their free time.
The non-conventional ways of consuming the substance are expected to put Dr Mailu’s directive to test. In a gazette notice effecting the ban, the CS outlawed the importation, manufacture, sale, advertising or promotion of shisha smoking in Kenya.
Anyone who contravenes the rules, he stated, will be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both.
Shisha consumption mimics smoking through the traditional pipe, only that a number of modifications are made.
Rather than suck in smoke from burning tobacco as it happens with a pipe, the smoke is made to pass through a liquid in the shisha pot and is sucked through an elongated pipe. Also, the tobacco is usually made to burn at a slower rate and is flavoured to eliminate the typical sharp smell of tobacco.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that because of the many puffs a person takes while smoking shisha, the volume of smoke is usually higher than smoking a cigarette.
WHO notes that in one full session of taking shisha, that lasts 20 to 80 minutes, a person can inhale smoke that would be produced by 100 cigarettes.
The Director of Medical Services, Dr Jackson Kioko, said the ban was guided by many factors “from social to health, and is also guided by scientific evidence of the negative impact of smoking shisha”.
A recent University of Nairobi (UoN) study says there is a risk of having prohibited substances in the shisha consumed locally because little is known about its composition.
Researchers from UoN recently tested eight samples of shisha products and discovered that some were laced with derivatives from opium and also contained amphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that targets the central nervous system.
The study noted that because people partake of shisha in groups, they are likely to use the same water-pipe, which increases the risk of contracting diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis.
Though the origins of shisha are not exactly known, accounts of its early use point to India.
According to Fumari, a company based in California, United States, that manufactures the flavoured tobacco for shisha smokers, hookah — as it is known in some areas — surfaced in the 15th century when Indian glass manufacturing began.
“The glass base was called Shisha. Its mystique spread to Iran where special strong, flavourless tobacco was used with it called ‘Ajami’,” Fumari say on their website.
“Shisha”, a synonym for ‘hookah’, is from the Persian word ‘shishe’, literally translated as ‘glass and not bottle’,” it adds.