Confused about the shisha ban? Here're seven commonly-asked questions and their answers

SINGAPORE - The import, distribution and sale of shisha will be banned soon, as the Government clamps down on the tobacco product amid concerns on its adverse health effects.

The announcement was made in Parliament on Tuesday by Parliamentary Secretary for Health Faishal Ibrahim.

In shisha smoking, the tobacco is burnt and smoked through a pipe connected to a water vessel.

Here are details on the ban, as revealed in Parliament on Tuesday.

Q: When will the shisha ban start and what does the ban cover?

A: The ban will be implemented later this month. It will cover the import, distribution and sale of shisha.

But existing licensed tobacco importers and retailers who import or sell shisha tobacco will be allowed to continue importing and retailing shisha tobacco until July 31, 2016. This will give them enough time to deplete their stock and restructure their businesses.

Q: In view of the transitional period, some retailers might stockpile shisha tobacco. What measures are in place to prevent this?

A: The Health Sciences Authority, the National Environment Agency and customs have a regulatory and enforcement framework to prevent this.

Q: With the ban, can people buy shisha tobacco overseas for personal consumption?

A: No. The new move also forbids people from buying shisha tobacco abroad and bringing it back to Singapore for personal consumption.

Q: Why is shisha being banned while cigarettes are allowed to be sold?

A: Owing to its sweet-smelling smoke, shisha smoking is often seen as less harmful and addictive. But these misconceptions and its social nature - with people grouped around the hookah used to smoke shisha - have contributed to a rise in shisha smoking worldwide, especially among the young.

This is worrying as it may serve as a "gateway to cigarette smoking".

Shisha is also a relatively recent development in Singapore compared to cigarettes, which are entrenched. Therefore, it is timely and necessary for to ban shisha now and prevent it from becoming entrenched in Singapore.

A single shisha smoking session is equivalent to puffing at least 100 cigarettes. The smoke, compared with cigarette smoke, contains higher levels of harmful toxicants like nicotine.

Q: How many licensed shisha retailers are there in Singapore?

A: As of last month, there were 16 shisha retailers here, located in areas such as Boat Quay and Kampong Glam. The number of licensed shisha retailers has dropped steadily over the years. There were 44 of them in 2011, and 41 in 2012. Last year, the number fell to 32 and as of last month, it was down to 16.

Q: How does the number of shisha smokers compared with cigarette smokers?

A: A 2010 National Health Survey found 2.6 per cent of adults aged 18 to 69 smoke shisha occasionally, compared with 14.3 per cent who smoke cigarettes daily.

Q: What will be done to educate the public, especially the young, about the harmful effects of shisha smoking?

A: The Health Ministry will ramp up efforts to educate the public about the harms of shisha. This will be especially targeted at the young.

It has engaged community organisations as well as schools, the ITEs, polytechnics and universities in outreach efforts. Online materials as well as printed resources on the harmful effects of shisha have been shared with them.