By Samwel Doe Ouma @samweldoe
A lobby group-The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA)-has condemned the recent Kenya-South Korea trade deal on Tobacco trade signed by President William Ruto saying that the deal goes against full implementation of tobacco control act and derails the positive gains the country has made so far to eliminate harmful effects of tobacco production and use.
KETCA has also raised an alarm on the return of the harmful nicotine pouches and unregulated tobacco products in the market.
According to Joel Gitali, Chairman KETCA, the signing of the trade deal with South Korea on tobacco export will undermine efforts and gains that aims to protect members of the public from adverse effects of tobacco products but also arbitrary disregard tobacco act and regulations therefore posing a threat to public perception of the importance of observance of rule of law which the government took an oath and promised to uphold.
“When President William Ruto took the oath of office on September 13, he promised Kenyans that he will uphold rule of law and that his government will accord Kenyans the highest standards of health,” Gitali said adding that, “The Tobacco Control Act commits the government to continually phase out tobacco farming in Kenya and any treaty or agreement that binds Kenya to promote tobacco farming is against the Tobacco Control Act and is therefore illegal.”
Since, Tobacco Control Act also commits the government to continually phase out tobacco farming in Kenya, the trade deal between Kenya and South Korea will prompt farmers to plant more tobacco to meet export demands and in turn derail the gains made so far to combat health consequences of tobacco use and farming, he said.
“We ask the government to immediately cancel aspects of the Kenya-South Korea agreement that touch on tobacco,” he added.
Numerous studies done in Kenya show tobacco farming is unprofitable, leaves farmers poor and sick with green leaf tobacco sickness, and other diseases, he added.
He explained that, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the Government of Kenya in March, 2022, launched the Tobacco-Free Farms project in western Kenya.
“In Migori, farmers have planted high-iron beans as an alternative crop to tobacco. The UN agencies are providing training, quality inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and a ready market for the harvest, through the World Food Program’s (WFP’s) local procurement initiatives,” Gitali told reporters in Nairobi.
He further explained that the UN agencies support enables the farmers to stop tobacco-growing contractual agreements and switch to alternative food crops that will help feed communities instead of harming their health with tobacco.
“With such tobacco trade treaties being signed by our government is likely the number of Kenyans killed by tobacco through diseases such as cancer will increase,” Gitali told reporters adding that “By the end of this year, exposure to tobacco smoke and other tobacco products will have killed more than 9,000 Kenyans.”
According to ministry of health data at least 40,000 Kenyans will have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer, many of them caused by tobacco use.
The country began efforts to fight tobacco use 30 years ago in 1992 when Kenya first participated in the World No Tobacco Day campaigns. The first tobacco control bill was drafted in 1998.
In 2004, Kenya made history by being the second country (after Norway) in the world to sign and ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on the same day.
Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act 2007 took over 13 years to be passed, largely due to what had been labelled by the Kenya Ministry of Public Health as “intimidation” and “interference” from the tobacco industry.
The Tobacco Control Act, 2007 is the principal law governing tobacco control in Kenya. The law covers topics including, but not limited to, restrictions on public smoking; tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and packaging and labeling of tobacco products.
While Tobacco Control Regulations, 2014 require combined picture and text health warnings and further regulate other provisions under the Tobacco Control Act, 2007 including public smoking restrictions, tobacco product and tobacco industry disclosures, tobacco industry interactions with government, and an annual fee placed on tobacco product manufacturers and importers, which will contribute to a tobacco control fund.
However, since its creation in 2007, implementation has been difficult.
According to Samuel Ochieng Chief executive officer (CEO) Consumer information Network, there is proliferation of illicit tobacco products in the Kenyan market– cigarettes, shisha, and smokeless tobacco – which are mostly untaxed and unregulated, with no health warnings, packaging or labelling requirements making them cheaper and more readily available to young people.
“Affordability and accessibility lead to increased use among young people,” Ochieng told reporters in Nairobi.
Ochieng pointed a number of imported cigarette products such as ORIS which he says are circulating in Kenyan market but do not carry the graphic health warnings that are aimed to promote public understanding of the negative health consequences of smoking and reduce the demand for tobacco consumption.
Novel and Emerging Tobacco and Nicotine Product
According to KETCA national coordinator Thomas Lindi, the market has seen an increase in the sale of illegal cigarettes which not only offend the Tobacco Control Act, but also occasion heavy losses to government in terms of taxable revenue.
“Tobacco Industry in Kenya is blatantly contravening the Tobacco Control Act and its regulations by continuing to sell its highly-addictive oral nicotine pouches,” he said adding that “The most notorious of these products are called Lyft and Velo that are hawked around to young people.”
He says that the nicotine pouches do not carry written warnings and pictorial images to warn users of their dangers contrary to research evidence that shows that nicotine pouches are harmful to the developing brains of adolescents and harm the fetus in pregnant mothers who use them.
KETCA understand that BAT Kenya Plc imported ten tons of Velo from South Africa in July and in August 2022, and has already ordered additional supplies, which are expected to flood the country anytime, he said.
“We ask Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakumincha Wafula to immediately ban the sale of these harmful products. He said adding that “There are already many concoctions out there killing Kenyans, such as bootleg alcohol, and narcotics. We do not need an additional product.” Thomas said.
He said that KETCA was aware that Kenya Bureau of Standards had convened a meeting in Nairobi that purported to develop standards and guidelines for the sale of these illegal pouches in Kenya. This must also stop.
Flouting of Shisha Ban by Nairobi nightclubs
On December 27, 2017, Kenya implemented a comprehensive ban on shisha, including the use, import, manufacture, sale, offer of sale, advertising, promotion, distribution and encouraging or facilitating its use. This ban has been upheld by all courts of law, where it was challenged.
However, individuals running night clubs in Nairobi have routinely rubbished the 2017 ban.
“We commend Nairobi City County MCAs for pushing for the enforcement of Shisha ban and encourage them to push for full implementation of Tobacco Control policies,” KETCA said.
Studies of tobacco-based shisha show that the smoke contains carbon monoxide and other toxic agents known to increase the risks for smoking-related cancers, heart disease, and lung disease.
Regular smoking of shisha may lead to cancer of the lungs, mouth, stomach and oesophagus. This is on top of health conditions like impaired pulmonary function, heart disease and reduced fertility.