Karnataka government is set to ban hookah bars across state and raise the age limit for buying tobacco products to 21. This is why.
Hookah smoking, often mistaken as a safer or healthier alternative to cigarette smoking, will soon be banned in Karnataka.
Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao has announced that an amendment would soon be made to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) and a state government notification would be passed to ensure that hookah bars were banned in Karnataka.
“We will soon table a bill to amend the existing COTPA to safeguard the younger generation, which is increasingly falling prey to tobacco and drugs. Children are getting addicted to hookah. And the dangerous content mixed in it is not known,” said Gundu Rao.
Health Department officials told South First that they had observed a proliferation of hookah bars and lounges in major cities like Bengaluru, Mysuru, Hubballi, and Belagavi, as well as in certain two-tier cities like Mandya and Tumakuru.
“The estimated count of hookah bars in the state exceeds 300,” they added.
The decision to ban them was taken after a discussion between Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao and the Minister of Youth Empowerment and Sports B Nagendra.
A senior Health Department official, speaking to South First, emphasised the necessity for all bars and restaurants to comply with specific regulations.
According to the law, restaurants or any kind of bars can only operate if they provide a designated smoking area.
The legislation mandates that any restaurant with a seating capacity exceeding 30 must allocate a designated smoking zone to mitigate passive smoking.
However, implementation of this requirement proved challenging, especially in cities like Bengaluru, where providing such spaces is often impractical.
“And the onus of effective monitoring and enforcement poses considerable difficulties for health department officials. A total ban is the only answer,” explained the officer.
Moreover, the law stipulates that designated smoking areas should not provide any form of service, including lighters or ashtrays.
The officials said that chairs, ashtrays, lighters, and other amenities are readily available in all designated smoking areas of restaurants and bars, violating this legal provision.
It is a misconception amongst youth that hookah is a safer alternative to cigarettes. Experts say that is not the case.
As per the Centres for Disease Control in the US, the tobacco in a hookah pipe is no less toxic than in a cigarette.
“A single hookah session lasts approximately 45 minutes, with charges going up to ₹400-500. Shockingly, this one 45-minute session is the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes in terms of nicotine deposits,” explained Karnataka minister Nagendra, citing a report published by a team of doctors.
According to the American Lung Association website, at least 82 toxic chemicals and carcinogens have been identified in hookah smoke.
Meanwhile, the combustion of charcoal, used to heat hookah tobacco, can pose additional health risks. This combustion process produces toxins like carbon monoxide and metals.
Explaining the dangerous effects of hookah, Bengaluru-based lung specialist Dr V Manoranjan said youngsters think it’s “cool” to hold hookah smoke in the throat for a longer time and release it in circles or rings, just like with cigarettes. This can lead to higher concentrations of toxic fumes entering the lungs, causing several diseases, including lung and mouth cancer.
Pulmonary issues leading to cardiac problems could also not be ruled out, he added.
Under Section 6 (B) of the COPTA, tobacco production or sale is prohibited within 100 yards of any educational institution.
However, many hookah lounges operating in Karnataka are situated near educational institutions, attracting a younger clientele.
The hookah bars also apply several appealing strategies to attract a younger crowd, said officials.
“Firstly, they often offer a variety of enticing flavours for the hookah smoke, which appeals to the younger demographic. Flavours like fruit, mint, and dessert options make it more enjoyable, giving a false feeling of a less harsh smoking experience, which is particularly appealing to those who may not be regular smokers,” explained Manoranjan.
Experts also explained that these establishments are often located so close to educational establishments that it is easier to bunk classes and spend time there.
These hookah bars often provide a comfortable interior, different lighting, and music to appeal to these youngsters.
Additionally, hookah bars often employ marketing strategies that target the youth.
Promotions through social media platforms, collaboration with influencers, and discounts or special deals to students or young adults are common methods used to promote these spaces.
Officials from the Health Department told South First that during recent raids its officials conducted with the police, it was discovered that these hookah bars not only use flavoured tobacco but also incorporated narcotics into their offerings.
Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao said, “We have found that these hookah bars are selling narcotics and using them in hookah pipes. Youngsters are getting more addicted to these, leading to several health complications.”
These substances are marketed under various terms, such as “herbal hookahs”.
Even in cigarette products, if nicotine is separated from the chemical components and only tobacco is provided, it is unlikely to attract buyers.
“One cigarette contains at least 7,000 mixed chemicals, raising concerns about the contents being ingested unknowingly. Similarly, many chemicals are mixed in hookah, which cause addiction and also nicotine content buildup,” said the aforementioned health official.
Em Jay, a 39-year-old who used to own a hookah bar in South Bengaluru, but shut shop after he was diagnosed with cancer, which he blames on hookah smoke.
He told South First, “After running the hookah bar for four years, I ended up with mouth cancer. I feel it’s both due to passive and active smoking of hookah.”
He explained that hookah smoke contained a complex mixture of chemicals. When hookah tobacco — often referred to as “maassel” — is heated in the apparatus, these chemicals are produced and inhaled by the user.
“Some of the key chemicals found in hookah smoke are nicotine, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, and tar,” he said.
Manoranjan said these chemicals reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
Acetaldehyde is a colourless liquid with a fruity odour, and a known carcinogen. Carcinogens are substances that increase the risk of people developing cancer.
Even Benzene is a carcinogenic compound. Long-term exposure to it can have serious health effects.
Arsenic is a toxic metalloid that can lead to various health issues, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Tar is a collective term for various harmful chemicals and substances found in hookah smoke. Tar can coat the lungs and lead to respiratory problems.
It may be noted that Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Punjab are a few other states that have banned hookah bars.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka government is contemplating a modification to the Central legislation, proposing an increase in the legal age for purchasing cigarettes from 18 to 21.
Randeep D, the commissioner for Health and Family Welfare, had said a comprehensive report outlining the changes would be prepared within a week and presented to the government. “A Government Order (GO) pertaining to this adjustment is expected to be approved shortly,” he said.
He added, “We are in the process of drafting amendments to the COTPA for this purpose. These amendments will be introduced during the upcoming winter session of the state legislature,”
A senior official said while strict monitoring of sales compliance might pose challenges, enacting a law in this regard would at least instil a fear of legal consequences, promoting better adherence to the regulations.