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City hookah bars face official heat

india Updated: Oct 20, 2011 01:20 IST
Sanjeev K Ahuja

If you thought gurgling puffs you take in city's hookah pubs were 100% nicotine free and harmless, you may be wrong. Hookah joints, the latest fad among youth in the city, have come under the scrutiny of the state Food and Drugs department.

Officials raided two hookah bars in DLF City on Tuesday and Wednesday and seized samples of Indian and imported molasses tobacco that allegedly contains 0.5% nicotine.

Officials claimed, under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, only a person with a licence can sell flavoured tobacco. They suspected the pubs may be violating rules on this count.

The raids were conducted after a recent directive to the Haryana government by the Punjab & Haryana High Court on the basis of a petition filed by an NGO. The organisation had claimed that a number of hookah bars in Gurgaon were providing flavoured tobacco.

Naritpam Goyal, the drugs inspector with the Food and Drugs Administration department, said their team seized eight samples.

"We suspect the samples contain nicotine. The seized samples would be sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Chandigarh, for testing. Any product containing 0.5% or more nicotine needs to be sold by a licenced outlet under provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. If these bars want to serve the same, they need to acquire a licence," Goyal said.

There are three types of hookah tobacco. First is the unwashed tobacco which has 0.5% nicotine, second is the washed tobacco which has 0.05% and there's herbal hookah tobacco which contains no nicotine.

Molasses tobacco is mainly produced in West Asian countries and is imported in different flavours such as chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, lime and others. Available in the form of tablets in packets weighing 50 gms to one kg, molasses tobacco is toxic for users, contrary to popular belief, officials claim.

While six samples were collected from a hookah bar in Galleria Market (as 50 gm packets produced by a Mumbai-based company), two samples were taken from a joint in DLF City-4 that were imported from UAE as 1kg packets, Goyal added.

The smoke from tobacco is drawn through water in hookahs to cool and purify it. However, according to unconfirmed studies, the cooling is effective but the filtration is not.

Many harmful constituents of smoke are inhaled. Since an average hookah-smoking session lasts for thirty minutes or more, the smoker inhales more nicotine than he does from a single cigarette. Even after it has passed through water, the smoke contains toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide and cancer-causing chemicals that are masked by the sweet flavours, certain studies say.