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Kazakhs Try To Stamp Out The Hookah

Officials say a Kazakh waterpipe ban could be in place by the end of this year.
Officials say a Kazakh waterpipe ban could be in place by the end of this year.
Kazakhstan's deputy minister of health, Erik Baizhunusov, has warned against the creeping rise of people smoking waterpipes as part of a broader government offensive to combat the use of tobacco in the country.

Within the framework of steep sales tax hikes and bans on the use of tobacco in public, Baizhunusov was quoted by as suggesting that the prohibition of the now fashionable hookahs could be fast-tracked and implemented by the end of this year.

Mandated images to accompany health warnings on cigarette packets are likely to appear within months, Baizhunusov added.

The Kazakh efforts are long overdue in the eyes of international health monitors like the World Health Organization (WHO), which ranks Kazakhs among the heaviest smokers in the world.

They also come with hard-smoking Russia set to approve sweeping antismoking laws that should prohibit smoking in all public places by next year. The Russian ban appears likely to ban a Central Asian staple, the smokeless "nasvai" that is a favorite of many migrant laborers working there.

Bnews quotes Kazakh sources doing what they can to remove the glamour from tobacco, particularly through the use of waterpipes:

Leading practitioners of native medicine have also called for a ban on hookah smoking, since this type of smoking has been acknowledged to cause intractable diseases like pneumonia, gingivitis..., periodontal disease, oral ulcers through the accumulation of viruses and bacteria from the hookah's liquid, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, mold and yeast fungi. Moreover, the effect of hookah smoking is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.

There are recorded cases of hookah addicts with herpes, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

According to Astana's chief oncologist, Mukhtar Tuleutaev, hookah smoking causes cancer of many organs including the bladder [and] cervix.

The Kazakh antismoking measures are said to be gaining steam despite opposition from the three dominant cigarette producers, which control a domestic market estimated at around $260 million in 2011. A report quoting assigned 45 percent of the Kazakh cigarette market to Philip Morris Kazakhstan, another 42 percent to Japan Tobacco International subsidiary JTI Kazakhstan, and 9 percent to British American Tobacco.

Baizhunusov wasn't the only official to target teahouse and nightlife culture in his latest pronouncements against tobacco use.

Kazakhstan's chief sanitary doctor, Zhandarbek Bekshin, was quoted as suggesting that waterpipes and hookahs are "not a Kazakh tradition, it was not and should not be."

The waterpipe fad was virtually nonexistent under Soviet rule but has proliferated in the past two decades in major urban areas like Astana and Almaty, as relative wealth and income disparities grew.

Bekshin hasn't shied away from the lifestyle choices of the rich and famous. With swank sushi bars surfacing in big cities and elsewhere in Kazakhstan, Bekshin also warned consumers that such uncooked seafood is "very dangerous" -- particularly because it's imported from abroad.

In the latest data available from the World Health Organization, some 39 percent of Kazakh males and 6 percent of females over the age of 15 were thought to smoke on a daily basis. That was an improvement over estimates a decade earlier that suggested around 65 percent of the adult male population smoked, according to the World Development Indicators database.

-- Andy Heil

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