Flavored tobacco is killing underage smokers, experts say

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People smoke shisha - a kind of flavored tobacco - in a café in Hanoi. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

Health and legal experts are again calling on the government to impose a ban on flavored tobacco products which have been plaguing the country and exposing children to major heath risks. 
These risks can be more harmful than those caused by regular cigarettes, experts said, after local media reported that a police raid last week at a café in the southern beach town of Vung Tau found many 12-year-old students smoking shisha, aka hookah.
Police then confiscated 12 bags of the fruit-flavored, sweet-scented tobacco and two smoking water pipes.
The café owner failed to explain the product’ origins and present any license. 
Police made no comments on the fact that the product, classified as tobacco when being imported into Vietnam, was sold to underage smokers.
In fact, even though local health experts have warned against shisha’s risks to human health in recent years, the government has yet taken any action.
As a result, the product is sold freely, both online and at cafés, leading to misconceptions that it is harmless.
Dr. Nguyen Minh Tuan, deputy chief of Hanoi-based Bach Mai Hospital’s mental health department, told Tuoi Tre newspaper on Tuesday that when smoking shisha, people absorb a lot more nicotine, an addictive and toxic substance found in tobacco, than when they smoke cigarettes.
It takes at least 40 minutes to finish a shisha session, which can amount to 50-200 puffs, meaning that smokers inhale an amount of smoke that is 100-200 times bigger than when they smoke a cigarette, he explained.
Just as dangerous
He also pointed out that many people claimed since shisha is “filtered” in water before they smoke it, its nicotine concentration and toxicity is reduced.
But, “shisha’s risks are just similar to those of other tobacco products,” he said.
For children smokers, the risks are especially bigger, according to Tuan, further warning that young people are also mixing shisha with illegal drugs.
Dr. Phan Quoc Bao at the HCMC University Medical Center was quoted as saying that such mixtures as well as shisha of unclear origins can pose unexpected risks to smokers like cancers and lung diseases.
Many doctors, meanwhile, expressed worries that since shisha is typically smoked in groups, people, especially youngsters, can feel pressured to take on the dangerous tobacco.
Speaking to the newspaper, Nguyen Van Hau, vice chairman of the HCMC Lawyers Association, urged local authorities to add shisha to their lists of banned or limited products.
Many countries in the world have already banned the product on health reasons, Hau said.
In 2013 HCMC’s authorities once asked the Ministry of Health to consider banning shisha, following findings that at many places, shisha without clear origins were sold, while many smokers often mixed it with illegal drugs or toxic substances.
However, the city’s recommendation so far has yet to be responded.

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