EDITORIAL: Shisha doublespeak wrong

A young man smokes shisha at Bellavista Bar and Lounge in Kisii town on December 25, 2017. Photo | BENSON MOMANYI | NMG
A young man smokes shisha at a bar on December 25, 2017. Photo | BENSON MOMANYI | NMG 

Tourism secretary Najib Balala’s questioning of the recent ban on shisha smoking raises a number of issues.

While he advances a fair rationale on why the ban on the water-pipe tobacco was a “miscalculation” that hurts businesses, the more pertinent question should be why the government is speaking from both sides of the mouth.

It is the same government, through former Health secretary Cleopa Mailu, that instituted the ban, which likely means that the move may not have been well thought out or discussed at policy level.

Besides, it is puzzling that he has faulted the regulation a month after it took effect, and only after that the exit of Dr Mailu.

The appropriate thing, before making any decision or taking any action, would have been for the government to articulate the issues and weigh all options.

Perhaps the solution could have been to make shisha smoking expensive as the Tourism secretary has suggested, through punitive “sin” taxes.

Or the government could have found other ways of regulating the substance, without occasioning sharp losses for those involved in shisha trade.  Essentially, the solution – whatever it be – should have been agreed on before being effected.

As it is, the ban has not even been effective. In Mombasa and Kilifi, shisha smoking is reportedly going on with little regard to the regulations.

There are likely other areas where the ban is being flouted, only going underground. Ultimately, the objective of the move ends up not being met.