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WSJ: E-Cigarettes, Shisha Go Up in Smoke in Cambodia

by Sun Narin and Chun Han Wong, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

Cambodian authorities have banned imports and sales of shisha tobacco and electronic cigarettes, saying rising consumption of such products among youths poses health and social problems.

A Cambodian man smokes a cigarette near a traffic sign along a street in Phnom Penh on May 31. The country has banned the use of e-cigarettes and shishas to prevent health and social problems. (AFP/Getty/WSJ)

The ban—approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday—has already prompted an official crackdown in the tourist town of Siem Reap and alarmed business owners in other cities, where shisha lounges have proliferated in the past year.

Shisha, or flavored tobacco smoked through a water pipe, and electronic cigarettes, which emit vapor containing nicotine, have become increasingly popular among young Cambodians, and could hurt their ability to work and study, Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs said in a statement.

The anti-drug agency doesn’t have precise data on the prevalence of e-cigarettes and shisha smoking, but Kao Boumony, deputy director of law enforcement at the agency, said he has seen anecdotal evidence pointing to high shisha consumption in the capital, Phnom Penh, as well as Siem Reap and the beach resort of Sihanoukville.

Officials are also concerned that shisha could become a gateway drug, particularly among youths who then go on to consume more addictive substances, Mr. Boumony said.

On Tuesday, police enforced the ban by raiding nightspots in Siem Reap, arresting 15 people and confiscating 55 shisha pipes, known as hookahs. The crackdown was meant to “maintain security” and “prevent ill effects on people’s health,” said city governor Khim Bunsong.

Phnom Penh authorities also plan to take action against shisha consumption in the capital, by potentially shutting down shisha lounges, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong.

A number of shisha lounges there have already closed their doors, as their owners seek clarity on the new regulations, according to local news reports.

Shisha smoking, whose roots stretch back to ancient Persia and India, has gained worldwide appeal as a social activity, particularly among young adults. Medical authorities, including the World Health Organization, say shisha smoking is as unhealthy as cigarette consumption, exposing users to higher risk of lung disease, cancer and other adverse health effects.

E-cigarettes too have proven controversial amid their rising popularity as a purported tool for helping smokers quit tobacco. The WHO, a United Nations agency, currently advises against the use of e-cigarettes, saying their safety and supposed benefits as a smoking alternative haven’t been scientifically proven.

27 Feb 2014

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