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Ethnic leaders call on MPs to close waterpipes loophole in Victoria

Posted 13 Sep, 2016

Leaders from local African and Middle Eastern communities have joined other ethnic groups in calling for MPs to support a proposal before the Victorian Parliament to bring waterpipe use, sale and advertising into line with other tobacco laws.

Australian Lebanese Medical Association president and cardiologist, Dr Walid Ahmar, said waterpipe tobacco was being smoked indoors at cafes in Victoria – despite other forms of smoking being banned in enclosed workplaces since 2006.

“It is inexcusable that waterpipe tobacco is not captured by the definition of ‘tobacco product’ under Victorian law – and ethnic leaders are united in their call for this loophole to be closed,” Dr Ahmar said.

“Waterpipe smoke contains many of the same toxins as cigarette smoke including carbon monoxide, nicotine and heavy metals. These toxins can cause cardiovascular and lung disease and various cancers, including for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

“Victoria is the only Australian state that allows waterpipe smoking in enclosed workplaces – and there is no cultural reason for this to occur.”

A waterpipe (also known as a hookah or shisha) is a device for vaporising and smoking flavoured tobacco, in which the vapour or smoke is passed through a water basin before inhalation. In an average waterpipe session, a smoker inhales an amount of tar roughly equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes.

Dr Ahmar said he was pleased the Greens, with support from the Coalition, have proposed an amendment to the Tobacco Amendment Bill 2016 that would bring waterpipes into line with other tobacco laws. He urged cross-party support for the amendment, which is currently before the parliament.

The change is supported by Victorian ethnic leaders including from the African, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, Arabic, Middle Eastern and Greek communities. It is also the position of the Heart Foundation, Cancer Council Victoria and Quit Victoria.

African Think Tank chairman Dr Berhan Ahmed said the change was important to protect young people from the dangers of waterpipe tobacco.

“Our kids are sitting around all night in these venues and breathing in the smoke. Unless something is done, there will be big health problems in future which will cost the health system lots of money,’’ Dr Ahmed said.

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said it was unacceptable to expose staff and customers to the well-known and documented health impacts of secondhand smoke, due to a legal loophole on waterpipes.


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