One day after the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) announced a rise in seizures of serious narcotics in the country, it turned its attention Tuesday to another social menace: smoking shisha.
Speaking at the NACD’s annual meeting at the Interior Ministry on Tuesday, the agency’s secretary-general Meas Vyrith lauded the response to a government-ordered ban on shisha, which had grown quickly in popularity among youths.
Shisha is generally a flavored tobacco smoked out of a water-pipe, or hookah. At times, illicit drugs such as marijuana, hashish or opium are added to the tobacco.
“We cracked down on more than 90 [shisha bars] across the country. Seventy-five in Phnom Penh, four in Siem Reap, seven in Preah Sihanouk and six in Banteay Meanchey,” Lieutenant General Vyrith said.
“After we found that using shisha is involved with using drugs it was important that the National Authority for Combating Drugs take measures to prevent the importing of shisha and the usage of shisha, which can seriously effect health,” he added.
Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong last month ordered the closure of all Phnom Penh’s shisha bars.
Prime Minister Hun Sen quickly adopted the crusade, saying on March 1 that the tobacco used in shisha pipes had been tested and found to contain a high level of drugs. He then likened smoking shisha to smoking opium.
On Tuesday, Mr. Vyrith dispelled the opium comparison. But he maintained his strong stance against shisha, and extended the campaign to e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered alternatives that vaporize tobacco rather than burn it. E-cigarettes are believed to be less hazardous than regular cigarettes.
“We need to collect the pictures and prepare documents on shisha and e-cigarettes… to broadcast widely, especially to the youth generation, and to make sure officials implement the law,” Lt. Gen. Vyrith said. “Using shisha can seriously affect health. It can cause cancer, tuberculosis, tooth decay, aspergillosis, ulcers and heart disease.”
The owner of a bar in Daun Penh district that previously sold shisha, who would only give his name as Mr. Bea, said Tuesday that his bar was complying with the ban. But he complained that others were not.
“I think other places are still selling shisha secretly but they do not let everyone in [their bars], just some people that they know,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)