Tougher rules on tobacco, say experts


The experts point to the dangers posed by the growing popularity of other nicotine products such as pouches and e-cigarettes.

Photo credit: AFP

Health experts are urging the government to tighten regulations on tobacco production and consumption. This is necessary to minimise the negative impact on the health of Kenyans.

The experts point to the dangers posed by the growing popularity of other nicotine products such as pouches and e-cigarettes.

According to Tobacco Control Board (TCB) chairperson Prof Khama Rogo, current tobacco laws are inadequate, allowing these products to proliferate among the population. Cigarettes are also a major contributor to air pollution, which can lead to respiratory and reproductive complications.

"It does not matter whether someone uses it directly or indirectly. The damage is not immediate, but will be more apparent in adulthood, such as 20 years later when someone gets respiratory diseases and lung cancer."

"That is why we are pushing for the government to ban this product, because there is no other way to regulate it. The more it is used, the worse its effects will be on our people," said Prof Rogo.

He explained that despite the existence of the Tobacco Control Act, most manufacturers do not comply with the laws that regulate the sale and promotion of tobacco and related products in the country.

The Kenya Tobacco Control Act of 2007 - which regulates all tobacco products and nicotine pouches - requires the packaging of these products to carry warnings in both English and Kiswahili.

"More people are not buying cigarettes in packets. Manufacturers are also putting smaller warning pictures and messages in the packs, which are not doing the intended purpose of reducing consumption," he said.

Prof Rogo said the Board's efforts to persuade the government to ban the product had been unsuccessful, with the Ministry of Trade looking more at the revenue generation and economic aspect than the damage to health.

According to Gamaliel Omondi, head of occupational health and safety at the Ministry of Health, these packaged products are aggressively marketed or promoted as cleaner alternatives to traditional cigarettes, which is not necessarily true.

"While some of these products have lower emissions than conventional cigarettes, they are not nicotine-free and still pose worse health risks," he said.

For example, he said, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are devices that heat a liquid to create an aerosol that the user inhales.

Their liquid contents, nicotine and other chemicals can be toxic to humans.

"These products are a threat to public health and have effects on users and bystanders, contain carcinogens and are harmful to the lungs," said Omondi.

Dr Leon Ogoti, a psychiatrist, told the Nation that increased use of these nicotine products could potentially worsen the mental health of users.

"Depressed and stressed people use cigarettes and other nicotine products as self-medication because they contain anti-depressants.

But the more they do this, the more they become addicted and this opens them up to further health risks and illnesses," he said.

The practitioners have called for strict regulations and enforcement at county level to reduce harm.