By Gilbert Kidimu
“So creamy, thick, and buttery, just like a blue berry milkshake. It tastes like the name. Hands down the best flavour ever,” said a university girl of her favourite shisha flavour.
“My favourite mixed flavour is rum punch and mint. I've been smoking for 2 years now and love every minute of it,” voiced her male friend beside her.
“Vanilla is the best flavour I have ever tasted.
It gives the taste of banana flavoured toffee together with mint's cooling effect,” expressed another guy sitting across the table.
Hearing that conversation naturally brings to mind the tastiest smoothies and ice-cream shakes the world.
But the subject the three university friends are discussing is anything but tasty or delicious; in fact, quite the opposite.
While tobacco is the last thing on these students’ minds while relishing the silver pipe, tobacco is all there is, only obscured by the fruit flavours the cunning manufacturers include.
Anyone living in Kampala has heard about it or seen it regardless their social status. Smoking shisha is indeed a trend, especially among young people in Uganda, and this has been the case for the past couple of years.
Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, officer in charge of mental health at the Ministry of Health says there is a general misconception that shisha is not tobacco.
“It is not only tobacco but worse than cigarettes because since an individual mixes it, they can add any other drug and the smokers will not know,” argues Ndyanabangi adding that this is an easy way to get introduced to other drugs and tobacco is consumed in large quantities.
She says young people in high schools and universities are the most consumers of shisha and other drugs; also the uneducated in the city suburbs.
Confidence Asiimwe, counsellor with Care counselling Centre, says when they did a survey with National Drug Authority in schools; drug and substance use was discovered far and wide spread among the teenagers
She says what is more astonishing is the general public doesn’t know how serious the problem is.
“Parents think their children are fine and won’t get into drugs,’ she wonders adding: “All students questioned knew about the existence of drugs, had seen someone use them, while 20% of them had at some point used drugs.” Meanwhile high school students are below the age of 18.
She says the most common drugs among them are tobacco (cigarettes, shisha, kuber), weed (marijuana), khat (mairungi), and alcohol, although there are some children from affluent families who have access to A drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Class A drugs are not only very intense but also hard to find among students or people with limited income
Most children who have got into illicit drug use have because of the age-old peer pressure and curiosity.
When teenagers see their peers do something that seems cool, they want to fit in and so end up doing the same.
“It is of utmost importance for children to know about the existence of these drugs from an early age because many of them get into them oblivious of the effects.”
Just like the shisha, the sachets for the drugs such as smokeless tobacco are very well packaged with colours looking like chocolates and candies. “Although there are warning signs written on them, the addict hasn’t got the time to read,” argues Asiimwe.
It is a slow fade
Asimwe says, they start with just trying out one puff of a cigarette and the rest is history; the second step is smoking the whole stick, they increase the number of cigarette sticks, before long smoking alone is not enough; so they upgrade to smokeless tobacco and marijuana, cocaine, heroin and a host of other harder drugs.
When they wake up one day as addicts, most of them don’t know when or how things got out of hand.
“It is not a given that rehabilitation will help these people get well completely. Some of them relapse and give up completely,” advises Asiimwe.
How to tell and help an addict
Different drugs have different symptoms. Weed makes one strangely thirsty, eat without getting full, they are disorganised, and isolate themselves.
Hard drugs will drive someone into confusion when they don’t have access to them, they lie, steal, make up stories to get money to maintain their expensive habit.
By and large, they don’t act normal. The person starts changing.
Ndyanabangi says depending on the intensity of the situation, the addict can be helped by counsellors in schools, hospitals, or churches but in case of extreme conditions; mental health professionals are the way to go.
Teenagers excited after smoking sisha. File photo