NAIROBI, KENYA - In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according experts.
Ian Chewaini, 26, has skillfully mastered the art of setting up his shisha pipe. Chewaini, who runs an events management company, is an enthusiast of shisha.
For the past four years he has been using shisha as a recreational drug. A shisha kit costs about $10 and the various flavors range between $5 to $10.
Chewaini said he quit smoking conventional cigarettes and turned to shisha due to its recreational nature.
“I like the head rush the product gives, also the wide varieties of flavors I can actually change depending on how I feel," said Chewaini. "Depending also on how my friends feel, because I can’t go and take and smoke it alone or even in the house. It's more of a recreational drug.”
Shisha smoking involves a glass-bottomed water pipe, a hookah, in which flavored tobacco is covered with a paper foil and roasted using coal. Before it’s inhaled, the tobacco passes through a water pot.
Shisha smoking has gradually become popular in Kenya among young people, especially in the capital. Most bars set up lounges for shisha smokers. Smoking at home is on the rise, too.
But there are dangers. Last year, Kenya’s Ministry of Health banned 19 flavors found to have been laced with heroin and marijuana.
According to the World Health Organization, one hookah session typically lasts 20 to 80 minutes, and a hookah user may inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would from 100 or more cigarettes.
Kenya regulates tobacco through a 2007 law. Public places for tobacco use have been set up in the capital and all tobacco-related products carry a health message warning of its adverse effects.
Still, about 2.5 million Kenyan adults use tobacco, according to the 2014 Global Adult Tobacco Survey.
Dr. Richard Gakunju is a clinical pharmacist and director at the Movement Against Substance Abuse in Africa. For the past 12 years he has also been the lead consultant for Kenya's National Campaign Against Drug Abuse.
He was quick to point out that smoking shisha could lead to cancer.
“There are very many health effects, we know primarily nicotine is the major cause of cancer, many types of cancers," said Gakunju. "We know that lung disease, what we call upper respiratory infections and all that, are related to the use of tobacco-related products and shisha is a major tobacco product."
Cigarette sales are declining in many parts of the world, but shisha smoking remains popular. According to a 2014 study by the University of Florida, about 100 million people worldwide use hookahs daily.