Killer in disguise

Ahmed Shatil Alam reveals how narcotics raid inside shisha lounges in the Dhaka city are eyewash in absence of clear laws prohibiting the trade

07The Department of Narcotics started a special drive in the last week of November 2014 at the several restaurants and hookah lounges in the city to monitor alleged illegal drugs consumption including methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol. The drive under supervision of DNC director (operations) Pranab Kumar Neogi surveilled 10 zones including Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Banani, Niketon and Ramna.
Restaurants and lounges that are primarily popular for shisha among youths stopped selling shisha to the public during the week. Although shisha is not illegal under any law, narcotics department run routine raids to avert consumption of illegal drugs and anti-social activities in the places.
A DNC high official requesting anonymity however, tells New Age Xtra that the raids have little impact because lounge owners have information of the drive ahead of time.
Restaurant owners, however, say shisha has not been declared illegal in the Narcotics Control Act, 1990 but the narcotics department still continues to put restriction on the business.
The crackdown on shisha lounges began in 2011 after the son of a former state minister and an Awami League leader died in a road accident in Cox’s Bazar. Investigations revealed that he had consumed shisha at a restaurant in Gulshan two days before the accident.
While the accident was result of driving at a high speed, the police shut down the Zone Zero restaurant where the teenager consumed shisha. The police said the substances mixed in the shisha got him high and led to his death.
‘We stopped selling shisha since the first day of December after the narcotics raided our place [in November],’ says Shaheen Hossain, manager of a Dhanmondi based shisha lounge and restaurant H2O.
‘Restaurants do not sell drugs or alcohol to their customers with shisha,’ says Hossain.
On March 14, 2013, a home ministry investigation team led by an additional secretary Main Uddin collected eight samples of shisha from the shisha lounges in Gulshan and Banani. Among the samples the investigation team found marijuana in five samples after laboratory examination.
DNC additional director general Amir Hossain admitted that shisha is not banned in the existing law because such synthetic drugs did not exist when the law was enacted.
‘We are amending the 1990’s drug law which incorporates shisha as a scheduled drug,’ Hossain tells New Age Xtra.
According to the shisha lounge and restaurant business insiders, the Middle Eastern smoking product started selling in the country in 2007. The Persian word shisha, also known as hookah in many countries, is a flavored tobacco smoked in a hookah, usually mixed with molasses or honey and often fruit pulp or dried fruits.
Shisha, other names for which include narghile, waterpipe, or hubble-bubble smoking, is smoked through tube from a bowl.
Traditionally shisha contains the same tobacco as cigarettes, so like cigarettes it contains nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead, says Rashidul Hassan, director of National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital. As a result, shisha smokers are at risk of the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smokers, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and problems during pregnancy.
The British Heart Foundation says that people smoke shisha for much longer periods of time than they smoke a cigarette, which is as damaging as cigarette. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead federal agency for tobacco prevention and control in the United State, an hour-long hookah smoking session averages 200 puffs, which exposes smokers to absorb higher toxic substances than a cigarette involving 20 puffs.
Fearing the harmful effects of shisha on public health, Singapore has banned shisha smoking from November last. Turkey and Malaysia have also banned smoking of shisha from 2013.
Local anti-smoking campaigners also urge the government to follow practices of the countries mentioned above.
The National Tobacco Control Cell is responsible to control and reduce the consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The cell, formed in 2007, with a vision to ensure a ‘tobacco free Bangladesh’ through awareness however, indicates the government’s complicity in the production of tobacco. The government earns 45 percent taxes from cigarette manufacturing companies.
Unlike cigarettes which has a legal parameter for the production and usage, ‘there is no authority to license shisha lounges or the product separately. We import the product and sell it to our customers,’ says Mostak Ahmed, manager of Mélange, a restaurant in Gulshan, which started business in 2011.

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