An unexpected ban on hookah smoking in Mali has left people surprised and fostered division, leaving devotees dismayed but health advocates delighted. Bars, where small groups of smokers — primarily young men — hang out to chat and puff on water pipes, have flourished in Bamako in recent years.
Mali is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and interpretations of Islam are generally unfavourable of cigarettes and shisha.
But it is also a secular nation that tolerates alcohol, even if consumption is limited to certain public places and most shops and restaurants do not serve it.
Shishas, or hookahs, typically burn a tobacco flavoured with fruit to provide a sweetened taste. The smoke is inhaled through a long rubber tube, passing through water to cool it down. “Shisha” is also the term sometimes used for the tobacco product.
The government’s sudden decision on August 15 to ban shishas took many by surprise — the ruling junta, in power since 2020, had not been particularly known for its concerns about tobacco.
The law, co-signed by six ministries, including the ministry of security, health and youth, “prohibits the importation, distribution, sale and use of shishas (water pipes) or any similar device throughout the national territory”.
Any shisha smoker will be punished with a prison sentence of one to 10 days and a fine of 300 to 10,000 CFA francs ($0.45 to $15.00).
Shisha bars have six months to close.
The authorities did not provide any reason for the ban.
Questions have been raised as to whether the measure will be enforced given that during the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions such as the closure of restaurants had little effect in a country where many businesses are informal and law enforcement resources are limited.
Whilst some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have taxed shisha consumption. Others, including Jordan and Cameroon, have banned it.
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