Following a request by the Phnom Penh municipality on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an “urgent” ban on the use and importation of flavoured tobacco product shisha, as well as smokeless e-cigarettes, leading to crackdowns and voluntary store closures nationwide.
After receiving on Tuesday an assessment from the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) maintaining that the products posed a risk to Cambodian youth, Hun Sen wrote on the same day: “Agreed, and please take urgent and firm action. Allow the NACD to lead and implement it.”
In his letter assessing the products, Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan, president of the NACD, also made recommendations on how to curb their use.
“The general public sees that shisha and e-cigarettes are drugs which get youths hooked and make them neglect their studies and work, and may lead to serious problems for the nation,” Kimyan said, before recommending “ceasing use by seizing and destroying the shisha and e-cigarettes, [implementing] banning measures and stopping imports”.
These recommendations, which the prime minister accepted, were sent from the NACD to provincial and municipal authorities nationwide, with the order to implement the measures with “high effect”.
That “high effect” played out on Tuesday night, as four shisha lounges in Siem Reap town were raided, with authorities seizing shisha and the water pipes used to smoke it, as well as apprehending 31 people who they “educated” on the dangers of the product and then released, police said.
Though the NACD itself confirmed that samples of shisha provided by the Phnom Penh municipality contained no illegal drugs – as the municipality initially suggested – NACD secretary-general Meas Virith said yesterday that “they contained nicotine, which could have more effect than [that found in] cigarettes”.
“Using shisha and e-cigarettes encourages people to use it [more], and leads to the use of drugs by illegally mixing them with shisha,” he added, noting that the ban only required businesses to stop selling shisha, not to close entirely.
According to Siem Reap provincial police chief Sort Dina, of the 31 people detained for education on Tuesday, five were carrying drugs.
Shisha lounges in the capital have denied having anything to do with drugs and have called the ban unfair. Even though the ban does not require lounges to close entirely, Lem Oudom, manager of The Sands shisha lounge in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that he would close for the time being after receiving a letter from authorities yesterday.
“We have closed our shop for a while, and are just cleaning it,” he said. “We are waiting for the boss to decide what we can change the shop into, but normally, apart from smoking shisha, our shop just serves beverages such as cocktails and other drinks.”