Plans are ongoing to bring about the banning of using and importing water-pipe tobacco, popularly known as Shisha, in The Gambia.
Omar Badjie, the Programme Manager of Non-Communication Diseases from the Ministry of Health, said Shihsa smoking is new in the country and is becoming rampant among the youth, which he said is worrying.
Speaking in an exclusive interview at the Central Medical Store in Kotu, Badjie said youth especially thinks that Shihsa is not a form of tobacco product and that it is harmless compared to cigarette. On the contrary, he said Shisha is far more dangerous than cigarette.
"One single puff of cigarette some are saying contains 400 different chemicals; some are saying 4000 different chemicals. And of these, 60% are poisonous. According to statistics, a single puff of Shisha is equivalent to three sticks. Some are saying five sticks of cigarette," he said.
Shisha, originated from the Middle East and certain areas of Asia, is a glass-bottomed water-pipe in which fruit-flavoured tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal. The tobacco smoke passes through a water chamber and is inhaled deeply and slowly.
According to a World Health Organisation study, the volume of smoke inhaled in an hour-long Shisha session is estimated to be equivalent of smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes.
The Gambia will be the fourth country in Africa to ban Shisha smoking if plans go by.
Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda are the only African countries that have banned the product, while Ghana is also planning to ban it this year. Other countries with similar bans are Pakistan, Jordan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
Speaking further, Badjie said they were having talks with the former health minister, Saffiyatou Lowe, about banning the usage and importation of Shisha, which was at advanced stage, but it suffered setback due to the recent Cabinet reshuffle by President Adama Barrow.
With the new minister in place, he said they have to bring her in the picture so that she could facilitate the banning process.
"We have to go back and orientate her about it; the dangers associated with Shisha so that we can see how best we can ban totally the importation of Shisha. That is the step that we want to do."
Badjie, who is also the National Focal person for Tobacco Control, further said most of the restaurants in the country have introduced Shisha service just to attract the young ones.
He said: "In the evening when you go to these tourist development areas, Senegambia and the surrounding or the restaurants, you will see a lot of young men and women gathered together about 5 or 6 or up to 10 sharing the same Shisha."
Part of efforts they have taken to control tobacco usage and the banning of Shisha especially is engaging youth organisation country-wide to sensitize them on the dangers associated with tobacco usage.
This is done in collaboration with Rate The Gambia, targeting the youth and the general public at large, he said.
Also, he said there is a comprehensive tobacco control law enacted in 2016 awaiting implementation by a declaration from the minister of health.
He said many people say they don't know the existence of the Public Smoking Ban 1998 and the Advertisement Ban 2003, which were not fully implemented.
But he said the new Act have components on prevention and control of tobacco product; from youth, advertisement, etc.
When the act is fully implemented, he went on, tobacco control issues in The Gambia would be second to know in the African, adding that most countries in Africa quotes The Gambia when it comes to tobacco control issues.
"I say this because when you look at other laws they have designated areas for smokers. But in our law, there is no area designated for smoking. If you want to smoke you should be completely 100% away from the next person. And to be 100% away from the next person in this country means you have to go to the bush. Or you have to go to the middle of the sea just to smoke," he said.
Generally, tobacco kills 6 million people yearly worldwide. Of these, 600,00o die from exposure to second hand smoke, according to WHO report 2013.
And it is estimated that if the trend continues, by 2030, the number will rise to 8.3 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide per annum, contributing 10 per cent of all deaths globally.