The Shady Hookah Businesses In Addis

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By Eliana

There are several Shisha {hookah} beneficiaries in Ethiopia and their demand is catered by several small houses that provide hookah and Khat in various parts of the city. Lounges and bars serving shisha or hookah to their customers are flourishing despite efforts by the government to crack down on such spots.

The small houses that provide hookah sell it between 25-50 ETB. Majority of their customers are university students and low-income citizens who use Hookah along with Khat, with Friends or groups of friends called “Jemma’’ during work time.

Selam is a mother of 3, living around 5 Kilo and she serves Khat and hookah to her customers in her house. “My customers are university students and they came here to chew khat and smoke hookah especially during exam time, that’s the way I am managing my family. The income is good but the police would not let me work unless I tip them some money and when I fail to do so they charge my customers and take the hookah accessories. To keep my business running I have to tip them 150-300 birr per week”.

A Police who wanted to remain anonymous told to our reporter about the different houses and bars who serve hookah in Addis Ababa especially around bole and 22 (Hayahulet). The majority of consumers are young adults including high school students. According to the police officer the hookah lounges, always manage to reopen despite our effort to crackdown and discourage them from opening.  The biggest problem we face during closing hookah lounges is that the owners have people working in police stations who tip them ahead to hid their hookah accessories. In return, the hookah owners pay money for their informants. If we get lucky enough to confiscate the pipes and the products we burn it and the owners will be asked to pay a fine of not more than 2,000 birr.

Hana is 29 years old and she came from Dubai and she loves Shisa ” I am uncomfortable with not being able to do what I want – it is like taking away a bit of my freedom. Hookah must be legal like other countries just like no one is afraid to smoke a cigarette. Also no one gives you a clear explanation of why hookah should be illegal. There is no proclamation that prohibits hookah smoking”.

The night-time corners of Addis Ababa have long allowed revelers in a deeply conservative society to embrace activities that might otherwise be frowned upon – including smoking shisha or hookah in lounges and bars as well as shops that sell pipes and smoking wares. Hookah bowl ranges from 150 birr to 250 birr in lounges and bars. In addition to the price variation, shisha is also available in different aromas and flavors to customers where mint and apple flavors are the preferred ones.

The government is trying to reduce the use of hookah by closing lounges that offer shisha and passing a law.  In this regard, all shisha products and pipes have been imported illegally and distributed via illegal channels (contraband root). Ethiopia’s tobacco control directive, which was introduced in 2015, and a prior proclamation clearly bans the use as well as importation of flavored tobacco.

Proclamation 661/2009 gives the Ethiopian food medicine and healthcare administration and control authority (FMHACA) the authority to regulate tobacco products and proclamation 822/2014 authorizes FMHACA to take all acts necessary for the implementation of the FCTC regulation 299/2013 which was issued by the council of minister pursuant to proclamation 661/2009. Places selling tobacco products are prohibited from selling their products to minors. Also requires 30% warning text or picture printed on the tobacco products to inform consumers about the negative aspects of smoking. Smoking in certain indoor places is also restricted. A directive issued by FMHACA governs among other things, smoking restrictions, tobacco advertising, tobacco packaging, and labeling and product regulation.

Already several countries around the world including Rwanda, Tanzania, Pakistan, Jordan, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia banned the smocking, selling and advertising of Hookah mainly because of its health implication that is said to be more harmful than smoking Cigarettes. According to WHO report “Cigarette smokers typically take 8 to 12 cigarettes with a 40 to 75 millimeter puffs and inhale 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke whereas shisha smoking sessions typically last 20 to 80 minutes, during which the smoker may take 50 to 200  millimeter puffs which range from about 0.15 to 1 liter each”.

The inconsistent act from the government has created a conducive environment for illegal activities to thrive surrounding the Hookah business. It is too important for the government to keep its consistency by backing up its action with the law rather than having a seasonal crackdown that mushrooms right away.