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Namibia To Ban Hookah 'Shisha'

Despite the widespread belief that vaping is safer, it carries significant health risks. The vaping/electronic cigarettes have surged in...

Despite the widespread belief that vaping is safer, it carries significant health risks.
The vaping/electronic cigarettes have surged in popularity, particularly among Namibian youths.  The hookah pipes, also known as hubbly-bubbly or Shisha, these products are being marketed as safer alternatives to traditional smoking as a result these products have found a large audience in teens and young revelers. However, the perception of safety is completely misleading. 

Call for Stronger Enforcement

The Ministry of Health and Social Services wants to curb the growing use of electronic cigarettes and other related products across the country. Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services Ester Muinjangue stressed the urgency of regulating vaping products, despite existing legal frameworks to combat tobacco use in Namibia. “There is no safe form of tobacco smoke,” she said, rejecting suggestions that vaping and hookah smoking are safer alternatives to traditional cigarette smoking. Muinjangue encouraged smokers seeking to quit their habit to utilize existing resources and seek support from health professionals.

You should understand that shisha/hookah poses significant health risks of lunger cancer and other illnesses, and the surge in use among youth has raised significant health concerns in Namibia. Rolf Hansen, the Chief Executive of the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN), has expressed strong support for a proposed parliamentary legislature to ban hookah pipes. This move aligns with the growing recognition of the health risks associated with hookah and similar products.

Hansen highlighted that CAN regularly receives complaints about the escalating use of hookah pipes, particularly among young people and in public spaces such as schools and restaurants. "We are very much in support thereof, as we observe many youngsters smoking hookah pipes, especially. It may not be smoked in public spaces and enclosed areas, but you will still find hookah pipes in lounges, restaurants, and nightclubs," Hansen said.

Vaping doesn’t just affect physical health; it also has psychological and social consequences.
To effectively manage the community's concerns, Hansen called for stronger police support. "People complain with CAN that owners and even schools allow hookah pipes and vaping in schools, restaurants, and enclosed buildings," he noted. This highlights the need for robust enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with any new regulations.

The appeal of vaping to young people can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Perceived Safety: Many young people believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, making them attractive to younger users.
  2. Marketing and Accessibility: Aggressive marketing tactics on the internet target youth, and e-cigarettes are often easier to obtain than traditional tobacco products.

Despite the widespread belief that vaping is safer, it carries significant health risks:

  1. Nicotine Addiction: Many e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, a highly addictive substance that can harm adolescent brain development, affecting learning, memory, and attention.
  2. Respiratory Issues: Vaping can cause lung damage and respiratory issues. Cases of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) have been reported, some resulting in death.
  3. Cardiovascular Problems: Vaping can increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
  4. Chemical Exposure: E-cigarette vapor contains harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde and acrolein, which can cause long-term health issues.

Social Impacts

Vaping doesn’t just affect physical health; it also has psychological and social consequences:

  1. Mental Health: Nicotine addiction can contribute to anxiety and depression, especially in young users.
  2. Academic Performance: Nicotine addiction can impair cognitive function, leading to poor academic performance.
  3. Gateway to Smoking: There is evidence that vaping can serve as a gateway to traditional cigarette smoking, exposing youth to the well-documented dangers of tobacco use.

State's Legislative Efforts

The Namibian government is set to review and propose amendments to the Tobacco Control Act, incorporating regulations for nicotine products used in vaping and hookah smoking. This legislative effort, expected to be presented to parliament in mid-June, aims to curb the rising use of electronic cigarettes and water pipes nationwide. Additionally, the amendment will support the creation of a comprehensive tobacco strategic plan. To combat the rise in youth vaping, comprehensive measures are needed:

  1. Stricter Regulations: Governments should enforce stricter regulations on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes, particularly those that appeal to young people.
  2. Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating youth about the risks of vaping through school programs and public health campaigns can help deter use.
  3. Parental Involvement: Parents should engage in open conversations with their children about the dangers of vaping and monitor for signs of use.

Global and Local Context

According to 2022 data from the World Health Organization, at least 37 million young people aged 13 to 15 use some form of tobacco worldwide. Hansen pointed out that products such as electronic cigarettes and nicotine pouches are gaining popularity among the youth. "The tobacco industry works to create an environment that promotes the uptake of its products among the next generation, including lax regulation to ensure its products are available and affordable," Hansen said.

Some proponents of the said regulation gave criticized the industry's tactics, stating, "The industry also develops products and advertising tactics that appeal to children and adolescents, reaching them through social media and streaming platforms." The introduction of new regulations is expected to address the mushrooming issue of alternative nicotine delivery systems, such as vaping devices and hookah pipes.

Political Support

The proposed amendments have garnered support from various political figures. Dudu Murorua from the United Democratic Front (UDF) expressed his wholehearted support, citing the long-term cancer risks associated with tobacco products. "I support the move wholeheartedly since the long-term use of tobacco products can cause cancer," Murorua said.

Last year, Popular Democratic Movement parliamentarian Elma Dienda called for a complete ban on hookah pipes in Namibia. Dienda shared a poignant anecdote, illustrating the normalization of hookah use among families. "I saw a mother and her children sitting under a tree. I thought they were passing an asthma pump around when I saw the mother passing it to the child. I thought the whole family had asthma, not knowing that it was a hubbly-bubbly pipe," she recounted.

Further Consultation

The National Youth Council of Namibia, represented by chairperson Sharonice Busch, supports the amendments but stresses the need for proper consultations. Busch emphasized the importance of balancing personal liberties with public health imperatives. "A balance must at all times be struck between personal liberties and what we make permissible in terms of law. So, our hope is that extensive consultations are made before such amendments are made," Busch stated.

The support from the Cancer Association of Namibia and various political and youth leaders underscores the urgent need to address the rising use of hookah pipes and vaping among the youth. With the proposed amendments to the Tobacco Control Act, Namibia is taking significant steps towards safeguarding public health and ensuring a healthier future for its young population. By striking a balance between regulation and personal freedoms, and through comprehensive enforcement and education, the country can effectively tackle the challenges posed by these harmful products.