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Questions on ministry ban on Shisha smoking

July 31, 2013

FMT LETTER: From Muhammad Yazid Yahya, via e-mail

I am the president of the Persatuan Peniaga Shisha Belia SeMalaysia. However, this statement of mine is given by me in my role as the servant of Allah first and foremost. It is in reference to the ban imposed (fatwa) against Shisha smoking.

The fatwa came about taking into account the verses of the Almighty’s Holy Quran but most importantly, the verses themselves were interpreted according to the data and advice provided by the Ministry of Health.

As Muslims and servants of Allah, we, though show respect and revere the decision of the Council, question marks appear to shadow the expert opinion given by the Ministry. When there are conflicting opinions issued by different scholars or derived from various evidences, we compare the evidence and then choose the opinion to which our God-given conscience guides us.

I do not mind losing my living as a shisha vendor if it contravenes with the teaching of my religion. No second thoughts about it but I’d would rather have the decision be based on a correct piece of information rather than a convenient one as I curious, as to how the data was collected and compiled by the Ministry of Health.

Kindly refer to the quote below.

“At the worst, shisha was 400 to 450 times more dangerous than having a cigarette ” – Dr Hilary Wareing of the Tobacco Control Collaboration Centre

The Malacca government implemented the ban after a French anti-tobacco agency’s report revealed that a single puff of shisha contained the same amount of carbon monoxide as smoking 52 cigarettes, a statement that more or less that lends claims to the aforementioned quote.

However, a closer analysis of the decision by the Malacca government would seem peculiar and baffling to say the least. Is it even logical for a human body to sustain the volume of carbon monoxide of 52 cigarettes?

Fundamentally, the researchers made the mistake of equating carbon monoxide with risk, as if CO was the sole (or even the main) cause of ill-health in smokers. They say nothing at all about cancer, which is the chief health hazard associated with tobacco use.

Instead, they assume that the risk of brain damage, stroke, heart disease and death is directly correlated with CO levels in the body. It is not. The bottom line is that shisha smokers actually experience the same exposure as cigarette with regards to the volume of carbon monoxide.

Besides, their exposure is, unlike cigarette smokers who generally smoke every day, not chronic. They indulge in their habit only one to three times a week. Even in the case of a daily exposure, keep in mind that the CO is quickly washed out from the body because its half life is only about three to four hours.

Presence of water in “shisha” reduces the intake of nicotine. However, it has to be noted that the minimal unabsorbed dosage of nicotine is sufficient enough to create an addiction. Nicotine serves as a regulator as smokers usually smoke till their “nicotine urge” is satisfied.

The question here is the variability and probability of the amount of nicotine that is inhaled. This owes to the fact that the smoke quantity is in co-relation with the suction from the mouthpiece, which inevitably varies according to the lung capacity of individuals.

The other notable factor that has to be taken into account is the duration of suction. In short, the quantity of smoke is not constant which makes the dosage of nicotine consumed per individual a random variability figure.

Another factor that I feel has been ignored. A factor called size of “shisha”. I am sure that a smaller version of “shisha” will inevitably provide a different reading to a bigger version. An observation backed by the findings of science called pressure which influences the velocity in which the smoke travels and the quantity of smoke consumed. And the conclusion as to the health risk faced due to consumption remains bleak and uncertain.

“After listening to the experts from the Health Ministry and scrutinising medical and scientific evidence from the country and abroad on the ill-effects of shisha, the committee decided to prohibit shisha,” – The fatwas committee chairperson Prof Emeritus Dr Abdul Shukor Husin.

The quote above clearly shows that the decision to ban shisha was based on the factors mentioned above. However, the issue is not the decision to ban shisha but as to the validity and accuracy of the datas and opinions provided by the Ministry.

The ulama of usul have defined tawil as departure from the manifest (Zahir) meaning of a text in favour of another meaning where there is evidence to justify the departure of Tawil which is attempted in accordance with the conditions that ensure its propriety is generally accepted, and the ulama of all ages, including the companions, deduced the legal rules from the Quran and Sunnah.

Tawil which is properly constructed constitutes a valid basis for judicial decisions. To ensure the propriety of tawil, it must be proved that:

1 That there is some evidence to warrant the application of tawil, and that it is not founded on mere inclination or personal opinion.

2 That the word or words of a given text are amendable to tawil.

There are chances that I might be horribly wrong as to my claims. I stand corrected and my deepest and sincere apologies to the Ministry if that is the case.

These claims of mine is based on my notion that the Ministry of Health has wrongly used the World Health Organisation’s advisory note titled, ‘Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking’. The press statements of the Health Minister is also along the lines of the findings in the advisory note.

The problem is that the advisory note was published in 2005 when the research and understanding of the subject was at its infant stage. In fact, this was the first report done by WHO.

It is also worthy to take note that the headline-grabbing claim that shisha pipes are ‘worse’ than cigarettes is based on unpublished research carried out by an unnamed university at the behest of the Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre (TCCC) and released exclusively to the BBC’s Asian Network.

As such, I urge the Ministry of Health to reconsider its findings and advice the fatwa committee of the National Council for Islamic Affairs.

I’m raising all these questions, and many more in the future, until I’m given proper verifications, for I don’t want to be subjected to a wrongly interpreted fatwa. The rule of Allah must not be compromised in anyway.


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