The owners of at least 15 shisha bars temporarily closed their establishments Wednesday, a day after Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong announced plans to have such places shuttered because he believes the smoking of flavored tobacco through a water pipe has a harmful effect on young people and keeps them from their books.
It appears that Mr. Socheatvong is not alone in his campaign against the bars, which have become trendy among Phnom Penh youth and have sprung up across the city.
Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday urging him to close the bars.
The owner of one shisha bar, who gave his name only as Da, said he had already been warned by a Phsar Kandal 1 commune police officer that he must shut down his business, in which he says he has invested $100,000.
“Now we will close our shisha bars temporarily, but we don’t want City Hall and the government to make this illegal. Please City Hall, make a law and issue licenses to shisha businesses, otherwise the owners will lose a lot of money,” he said.
“Shisha is not a drug and it is popular in Europe, too,” he said. “The government said we are not allowed to serve students, but our businesses also serve tourists, too.”
In his letter to Mr. Hun Sen, NACD chief Mr. Kim Yan said the drugs body is ready to help shut down the bars if the order is given.
“We want Mr. Hun Sen to allow us to shut down all the shisha bars, especially in Phnom Penh, because it has many shisha bars and affects the students,” he said.
“In other provinces, students there now also want to try smoking shisha, so after this, other authorities should implement the order to close them down, because some people think this is a kind of drug too.”
Reached by telephone, NACD secretary-general Meas Vyrith said the drugs body would help enforce an order if it is given by the prime minister.
“It is not a drug, but we have to follow government orders, because in society, many people are worried that their children will not go to school,” Mr. Vyrith said.