ISLAMABAD: A national representative body of doctors has asked a parliamentary committee to seek input from all stakeholders rather than allowing sheesha businesses to operate across the country in haste, as the public consumption of sheesha has been banned by the Supreme Court.

However, Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services chair Senator Mian Ateeq Shaikh has argued that the SC’s decision was misinterpreted, and sheesha was banned through an administrative order.

He said he had taken suo motu because if sheesha is allowed in the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and other parts of the world, why not in Pakistan?

A meeting of the NHS committee on July 12 suggested legalising sheesha lounges because many people have taken to consuming sheesha at home.

The committee had also expressed displeasure with the registration of honorary degrees by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC).

In a letter to Senator Shaikh that is available with Dawn, Pakistan Medical and Dental Association (PMA) Secretary General Dr Qaisar Sajjad said the association appreciated the committee’s stance on the registration of honorary degrees by the PMDC.

The letter added: “However, we regret over your advocacy, spread through mass media, for no ban on use of sheesha at restaurants. Under Smoking Prohibition Law 2002, smoking is prohibited at public places. So lifting up ban on sheesha at restaurants will be against the law.”

“According to World Health Organisation smoking sheesha for one hour means you have smoked 200 cigarettes, just imagine how hazardous it is for human health. Sheesha contain 40pc tobacco and 60pc flavour to attract the consumers. Instead of restoration of sheesha in restaurants government should initiate a massive awareness campaign for public against sheesha,” it added.

“PMA has always advocated and struggled for the effective policies to reduce tobacco and betel nut (chalia) consumption in Pakistan, because use of these items in any form is harmful for health. According to a report 166,000 people die in Pakistan, in a year, only due to the use of tobacco,” the letter stated. It added: “If it is possible you can include representation of PMA in your standing committee.”

Dr Sajjad told Dawn the committee should not make any hasty decisions and should allow the PMA to give its input.

When contacted, Senator Shaikh said sheesha is consumed around the world and therefore, should not be banned in Pakistan.

“Unfortunately people have started using sheesha at home, due to which the whole family suffers from the smoke. Moreover, the SC had ordered to regulate sheesha, but it was banned through an administrative order. If sheesha was regulated, it would increase government revenue because it would be taxed. The whole family does not suffer if liquor is consumed at home, but all family members suffer is sheesha is used in the house,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2019