Baraku operators complain their livelihoods are up in smoke

Baraku operators complain their livelihoods are up in smoke

No proven link between recreational smoking and harder drugs, writes Paritta Wangkiat

Baraku or shisha service operators at pubs and restaurants along Bangkok's busy tourist streets are outraged over the National Council for Peace and Order order to ban the import of the Middle-Eastern style hookah pipe, a device used to smoke baraku, a tobacco-type product.

They say the ban would not be able to curb smoking or drug problems among teens, despite Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha's wishes.

Shortly after Gen Prayuth touted his NCPO's policy address against the spread of baraku among Thai teens and youngsters through his weekly show last month, the Bangkok Post surveyed three busy tourist streets in the capital where bars typically provide customers with baraku. They are Phra Arthit Road and Khao San Road in Phra Nakhon district and Phahon Yothin Road in Chatuchak district.

But on the day the Bangkok Post conducted its survey, it found the baraku service providers which had rented parts of many small pubs and restaurants there had stopped providing their customers with the service. They admitted they are afraid of Gen Prayuth's policy. A customer buys the shisha from the provider and is provided with a hookah pipe. While some outlets encourage their customers to smoke outside, others which flout the non-smoking law might allow customers to smoke indoors.

A 46-year-old provider of shisha services at a pub on Pahon Yothin Road, who called himself "Boy", said he stopped selling shisha after hearing about the junta's order.

"I am now out of work. We may need to do something else," Mr Boy said. He had invested about 1,000 baht in the shisha equipment, and charged 250 baht per customer. He could earn more than 3,000 baht a night.

A man who called himself Supachote, 32, has also suspended his shisha services at a small pub near Khao San Road.

"I don't think the ban on shisha would solve drugs problems at all," he said.

"Shisha is just an alternative for smokers. The disappearance of shisha won't make smokers feel like they miss something."

Mr Supachote said most shisha smokers already smoke tobacco but they want to try how they feel when they smoke shisha.

Shisha will hardly lead a non-smoker to be a smoker, because of the hooka's inconvenient size, he said.

"It's just for having fun with a group of my friends," he said.

Mr Supachote denied claims shisha would lead smokers to drugs addiction, saying mixing of marijuana in shisha was possible but no shisha providers would want to risk being arrested. Doing so would create the pungent smell of burning cannabis and shisha.

Even though shisha was banned from the pub, individuals still can buy shisha equipment on the internet, black market, or in open markets in Chatuchak and Silom in Bangkok and Rangsit area in Pathum Thani, he said.

"I admit that shisha smoking affects health," said a shisha service owner identified himself as Bec Sathu, 26. "But I think shisha is a small issue when you talk about the management of all health-risk factors."

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