LAST_UPDATEFri, 20 Jul 2018 4pm

Smoking Is Smoking Whether Cigarettes, Shisha Or Vape

Cigarettes consist of cut tobacco leaves rolled in a cylinder-shaped paper or leaf, which is then ignited at one end, while its smoke is inhaled from the other end. It was first introduced to our society by Western colonialists. These days however, smoking has very much become a culture in Malaysia, regardless among the elderly or the youths; the rich or the poor; bosses or employees.

Smoking carries serious health risks such as lung cancer and heart disease, and scientific studies have shown that for every cigarette lit, over 4,000 toxic chemicals are produced which are harmful to the human body. Cigarette smoke contains radioactive material (polonium-201), also the materials used in paint (acetone), floor cleaners (ammonia), mothballs (naphthalene), pesticides (DDT), termite poison (arsenic), toxic gases (hydrogen cyanide) and many more, including tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide.

Not only smokers suffer from the diseases mentioned above, but passive smokers too, that inhale the smoke emitted by smokers. Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is even more dangerous as it contains twice the nicotine, five times more carbon monoxide and tar, and multiple times more chemicals. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke suffer from higher health risks.

Recently, prices of cigarettes once again increased on November 4, 2015. Premium brands like Dunhill, Kent and Benson & Hedges rose to RM17 per box. The hike was due to an increase in cigarette excise by 40%, after rising 12% on November 1, 2014, on top of the 6% implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1, 2015. This is perhaps the best timing for heavy smokers to quit smoking, even though they may already be looking for cheaper alternatives, otherwise contraband cigarettes.

In its 37th session in 1995, the National Fatwa Council’s Committee, had decided that smoking is illegal as it causes harm. This decision was based on medical and scientific evidence from within the country and abroad, concerning the impact and harm caused by smoking, as well as the presentation and details laid out by experts from the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, shisha, or also known as hookah, is a single or multi-stemmed water pipe instrument for vaporising and smoking flavoured tobacco. It has long been practised as part of the lifestyle in the Middle East, but has also become a common sight in some cafes and restaurants around Kuala Lumpur, especially at night. The flood of Middle Eastern tourists in the 1990s was believed to have indirectly spurred the rise of shisha in the country.

Shisha appears to be another way to enjoy smoking, where water through a glass basin is used to pass the smoke before inhalation. The aromas of fresh fruit, along with the scent of flowers mixed with the tobacco is mainly the reason why most consider shisha smoke not harmful.

Pulmonologist of Prince Court Medical Centre, Dr. Daniel Lee Keat Chye however had said in an interview published in Utusan Malaysia on December 1, 2013, that shisha is more harmful than one cigarette. This is because in the process of smoking shisha, a wad of sticky sugar laced tobacco is placed into a ceramic bowl and is usually covered with aluminum foil, while burning coals are placed on top of it. The burning embers that heat the mixture will produce toxic fumes when the coals react with the aluminum.

The container of water acts like a chamber of smoke which goes into a long hose-like tube with a mouthpiece for inhaling. The water from the shisha will be mixed with the toxic fumes, producing vapors and smokes which are carcinogenic to the lungs. This also means that more smoke is inhaled through smoking shisha compared to cigarettes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a 60-minute session of smoking shisha may be the same as smoking 100 cigarettes or more. Shisha is also said to be 400 times more harmful than smoking because it is usually smoked between 45 minutes to an hour, while a cigarette, for only five minutes. Smoking it leads to more exposure of carbon monoxide, with a much higher content of nicotine and tar.

For those sharing the shisha pipe in cafes and restaurants, they are also exposed to the risk of infectious diseases channelled through the saliva, especially tuberculosis, or TB. It is reported that in most hospitals in Egypt, many TB cases have been caused by extensive shisha smoking.

Due to these reasons, the shisha is considered equivalent or even worse than smoking cigarettes. The Special National Fatwa Council Committee which met on July 17, 2013 had also decided that shisha is illegal, and Muslims are prohibited from smoking it, providing services for it, or having any activity associated with it.

More recently, there has been abuzz over vaping. Vape, the electronic cigarette which is said to minimise the adverse effects of conventional cigarettes has lately been promoted as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. In an interview in Bulletin Utama on TV3 recently, many smokers gave their testimonials about how their health has improved after switching from regular cigarettes to vaping.

A vaping device consists of several parts, namely the battery, the tank, atomiser and a mouthpiece. In brief, the battery powers the atomiser that vaporises the e-liquid (a mixture of prolylene glycol, glycerin, flavouring and nicotine). Some mixtures however do not contain nicotine. Nicotine dissolves well in prolylene glycol while glycerin encourages the concentration of vapor that is produced, which users would then inhale through the mouthpiece.

Although vape was introduced as an alternative for heavy smokers to supposedly help them quit smoking, the opposite has happened as it has now become a culture or trend among young people. Many youths have started vaping, even those who do not smoke cigarettes. Vaping has also become a widespread phenomenon among women.

Datuk Seri Dr. Helmi when winding up a debate on the Allied Health Professions Bill 2015 at the Dewan Rakyat last month had said that substances in the electronic cigarette liquid including nicotine and propylene glycol when heated by more than five volts, will combine to become preservative-like chemicals (folmaldehyde) that can raise the risk of cancer.

Federal Territories Mufti, Sahibul Samahah Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, had also said that vaping is forbidden (haram) based on the analogy that it is more detrimental to health than cigarettes. He also added that vaping led to wastages and imitated non-Muslim culture, apart from carrying an undignified image. Therefore, the fatwa listed vaping as haram, similar to cigarette smoking among reasons for the edict.

On the other hand, the National Fatwa Council through its chairman Prof. Emeritus Tan Sri Dr. Abd Shukor Husin had declared electronic cigarettes as prohibited in Islam. It is classified as dangerous, wasteful and harmful to the health. "For these reasons, it is illegal," he said during a press conference after the executive overview for the Syariah Index 2015 in Perak, last Mid-August.

In an effort to reduce the number of smokers in the country, the government has never given up campaigning, raising taxes on tobacco, banning the broadcast and advertising of tobacco and enforcing graphic health warnings on every cigarette pack. Unfortunately, all this has not solved the problem of smoking, instead, even more problems have arisen now with the emergence of shisha and vape.

Regardless the reason, a fact remains that smoking is unhealthy and whether it is cigarettes, shisha or vape, all methods of smoking are detrimental to the human body. Furthermore, smoking also poses health threats to our surroundings. Indeed, death lies in the hands of God. And although there are heavy smokers who are still alive and smoking at an old age, there’s no denying that smoking is a health hazard, and not to mention, for the Muslims, it is a law that has been explained and must be adhered.

We ought to realise that the issue is now more acute when vaping has also been used for synthetic drug consumption, and what more when cannabis flavoured liquids are also allegedly being sold. Vaping may also stem a string of social problems, especially when children start as young as primary school and are involved with the device. Who knows if a syndicate already exists, where students have become vape distributors? Smoking in general is deemed as a negative influence, because it is detrimental and wasteful. Needless to say how it has interfered with the moral ethics of youngsters these days who either secretly or publicly vape.

At the end of the day, all of us need to make wise decisions that may impact our lifestyles, taking into account the importance of our health and those surrounding us, especially the people we love. All parties must work together to combat these negative influencers and save our human civilisation. Let’s put a stop to the useless smoking culture.

Johari Yap
Chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MACMA), Kelantan Branch