Rwanda has banned shisha smoking, an increasingly popular pastime of Uganda's "socialites" and party-goers. Uganda ostensibly banned shisha in 2015, but the toxic product is still sold, promoted and used openly around the country.
In a statement dated 14 December 2017, Rwanda's minister of health, Dr Diane Gashumba stated "the use, advertisement and import of water-pipe tobacco smoking known as shisha tobacco is banned on Rwanda territory effective from 15th December 2017". The statement threatened sanctions for failure to comply with the ban. Rwanda cited advice of the World Health Organisation to justify the ban on water-pipe smoking.
In an advisory note of 2015, WHO noted that all studies show that "during a typical waterpipe use session, the user will draw large doses of toxicants (ranging from less than one to tens of cigarette equivalents)". These toxicants, the note said, "have been linked to addiction, heart and lung diseases, and cancer in cigarette smokers and can result in similar outcomes in waterpipe users if these toxicants are absorbed in the body in appreciable amounts."
The WHO advisory note also stated "waterpipe use has deleterious effects on the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, oral cavity and teeth, and long-term waterpipe smokers have higher incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and periodontal disease."
WHO advised governments to implement measures to limit shisha smoking and exposure of non-smokers to shisha second-hand smoke.
How serious a problem is shisha smoking in Uganda? While there are no hard figures on the prevalence of shisha smoking in Uganda, it appears to be a growing practice in urban areas, despite the 2015 ban. In Kampala, there are bars whose primary selling point is shisha, also known as hookah.
The WHO note states "anecdotal evidence for Algeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania indicates a proliferation of fashionable hookah bars in the larger urban centres in all these countries, which are frequented mainly by the young and business people."
Uganda's Tobacco Control Act of 2015 bans importation, manufacture, distribution, processing and sale of "water pipe delivery system, including the water pipe device or the water pipe tobacco product or other substances to be used in the water pipe delivery system..." The ban appears to exist only on paper.
A Ministry of Health official told The Observer today that lack of money has frustrated efforts to enforce the shisha ban.
The official said that money is needed to engage and train relevant enforcers, including police, Ministry of Health, Kampala Capital City Authority, and local government authorities to "understand the dangers of shisha, which is killing the young generation".
Rwanda has a reputation for enforcing such bans strictly. As Uganda runs around in circles with its ban on plastic bags, Rwanda has virtually eradicated their use. While it has come late to the party, Rwanda could soon leave Uganda in a could of (sisha) smoke.