Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday warned all shisha cafe owners, who offer flavored tobaccos smoked through Middle-Eastern style water pipes, to stop operations immediately, claiming the substances smoked in Phnom Penh include drugs.
“Shisha is not being banned related to a prohibition [on smoking], but it was brought for testing and it was found that it had a high-level of drug substance,” the prime minister said in a speech closing a tourism convention at Koh Pich’s City Hall.
“If looked at closely, this shisha is opium but it’s just [consumed] differently with the use of a tube. In the old days, [opium] was put in a bamboo tube with a cover and people absorb it together,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen, who is a well-known cigarette smoker, also claimed that shisha cafes had also encouraged students to skip school.
“Parents are concerned by this,” the prime minister said.
“I would like to clarify that we will not close the shops. We are just asking them to stop providing shisha for smoking. But, if they are defiant, we will close the shops completely.”
The government’s crusade against shisha cafes was announced by Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong on Tuesday during the municipality’s annual meeting.
At the meeting, Mr. Socheatvong said there were no narcotics involved and nothing illegal in smoking shisha, but the practice was being outlawed because of the health implication of smoking tobacco.
Fifteen shisha cafes had been closed in the city by Wednesday, the governor said.
Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of National Authority for Combating Drug, also contradicted the prime minister, saying on Friday that the only drug involved in shisha was the nicotine found in tobacco.
“There is no opium drug only nicotine,” Mr. Vyrith said, adding that no one had ever been arrested on drug charges related to shisha smoking.
“But, the way of using [shisha] is easy, so it could lead to use drug,” he said. “Kids using it waste time that could be used for their study, so it is not beneficial to the interests of society.”
Commenting on the shisha ban, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said it would improve the health of the people.
The same ban would not, however, extend to other forms of nicotine consumption, such as cigarettes, Mr. Siphan said.
“The ban on shisha imposed by Samdech [Hun Sen] comes because shisha can damage health and it disturbs social order. Smoking cigarette doesn’t disturb social order, but it can lead to fire.”