Poor implementation of tobacco rules fuelling addiction, NGO laments

Ketca Chair Joel Gitali

Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca) Chair Joel Gitali. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance has also taken issue with the recent licensing of nicotine pouches known as Lyft.
  • The Pharmacy and Poisons Act lists nicotine as poison that can only be handled by a licensed wholesale dealer.

Haphazard implementation of tobacco control laws is fuelling the spread of tobacco consumption among teens, Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca) chair Joel Gitali has said.  

Speaking on Friday during a webinar on tobacco control in the country hosted by the anti-tobacco lobby, Mr Gitali said the government’s policy on tobacco was allowing tobacco firms to introduce new products in the market and also pay less taxes using offshore tax havens.

“Our national policy on tobacco is made up of rules designed to control tobacco use together with weak tax avoidance laws that made it easy for multinational tobacco firms to transfer profits from the country without paying the required taxes," Mr Gitali said.

"This conflict also makes it easier for the tobacco firms to continue selling harmful products in the market, and even lobby for the licensing of new ones in the guise of being medicines developed for harm reduction,” he explained.

According to tobacco watchdog body, tobaccotactics.org, Kenya has the highest recorded smoking prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 11.6 per cent of 2.5m adults reported as smokers by 2014.

Of these, 10 per cent of teens aged 13-15 or 12.8 per cent of boys and 6.7 per cent of girls, had engaged in cigarette smoking. 

In 2017, Euromonitor International estimated that the smoking population had risen to 3million with overall smoking prevalence having fallen to 11 per cent. Despite the country having signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004, the number of smokers in the country is still rising as teenagers and other young adults continue to join the ranks. 

The Ketca chair took issue with the recent licensing of the nicotine pouches known as Lyft by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board as improper and asked the government to investigate the circumstances under which the product was given the green light. 

Lyft is a brand of nicotine pouches produced by British American Tobacco (BAT) Kenya Limited that was previously available in wines and spirits shops. It was also available in online shopping sites.

The product is marketed as a nicotine based alternative that addicts can use without having to smoke cigarettes. The price for a pack which contains 20 pouches, will often range from Sh200 to Sh250.

“The government needs to investigate how Lyft was able to get a license to be sold on the Kenyan market yet it is a harmful product that has not been proven to assist smokers to quit smoking,” said Mr Gitali. 

On October 9, 2020, Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe, declared the registration of Lyft illegal and directed the PPB to deregister it. 

His directives arose from concerns over how the product is dispensed, its availability to people aged below 18 years and the licensing of the product that was done contrary to the provisions of Section 25 of Pharmacy and Poisons Act Cap 224, which was used to register it as a drug. 

Mr Kagwe noted that the nicotine pouches did not meet the Act’s description of drugs as Part 1 or Part 2 poisons. 

Tobacco products

The Pharmacy and Poisons Act lists nicotine as poison that can only be handled by a licensed wholesale dealer, an authorised seller of poisons, a person licensed to sell poisons for mining, agricultural or horticultural purposes.

Nicotine can also be handled by a person who has lawfully been sold Part 1 poisons and any person lawfully supplied the poison by a qualified medic, dentist, veterinary surgeon, or by a hospital or dispensary. 

On the other hand, tobacco products that contain nicotine can be sold in the country under the Tobacco Control Act if they are made up of tobacco leaves or extracts intended for use by smoking, chewing, sucking, inhalation or sniffing. 

In issuing the directive, the Ministry of Health took the view that e-cigarettes were part and parcel of the other tobacco products licensed by the act and could not be classified as medicinal. 

Mr Kagwe also asked PPB to provide the ministry with a comprehensive report on the registration criteria used and the circumstances that led to the the registration and licensing of the product under the Act. He is yet to make public the details the board was to give Afya House. 

Ketca is now calling for extra vigilance on new tobacco products as well as the withdrawal of all tax incentives geared at encouraging the growing of tobacco leaf and the and processing of tobacco products in the country. 

Mr Gitali said Ketca estimates had shown that around 801.5m cigarretes are illegally sold in the country, resulting in a loss of around Sh44bn per year in revenues. Tobacco use think tank Euromonitor estimated that as much as 26 per cent of the cigarettes sold in the country in 2016 were contraband, or illegally brought into the country. 

A 2016 report by the Tax Justice Network showed that BAT had moved dividends from the country to the Netherlands, avoiding the payment of Sh2.6bn in taxes, a claim the multinational categorically denied. 

Mr Gitali also lamented what he termed the “zero action” being taken by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) to stop the marketing and sale of tobacco products in shops and other trading establishments near schools where impressionable children were learning. 

“Nacada has a fairly vigorous campaign program when it comes to hard drugs and alcohol but has taken zero action to reign in the tobacco consumption menace among teenagers. This has had the effect of making the products seem legitimate to young people,” said Mr Gitali.


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