Increasing use of e-cigarettes has posed challenges to tobacco control in Kenya, a major tobacco control organization in the country said, calling for effective regulations over e-cigarettes and other tobacco substitutes.
According to Thomas Lindi, the coordinator of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance — a non-governmental organization fighting the use of tobacco in Kenya — there has been an increase in tobacco use among women and youth in Kenya owing to the introduction of emerging tobacco products.
He maintains according to the WHO, the prevalence of smoking in Kenya as at 2020 was 11 percent and the majority of smokers were men. However, the introduction of alternative tobacco products, most of which do not have traditional smoke or are flavored, has made the use of tobacco more appealing to a wider target market.
“The introduction of emerging tobacco products like oral nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes is posing a challenge in our fight against tobacco products because they are not adequately addressed under the Kenya Tobacco Control Act,” Lindi said. “We are working to have the law reviewed so that it can capture all tobacco products.”
In 2007, Kenya passed the Tobacco Control Act, which introduced restrictions on public smoking, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship as well as packaging and labeling of tobacco products. Lindi said despite resistance from the tobacco industry, the laws have helped curb the harmful effects of smoking among Kenyans.
However, he added the tobacco industry is looking for a way to beat the rules introduced by the act by introducing alternative tobacco products. Although local research on the effect of these emerging tobacco products is scant, Lindi said these products are as lethal as traditional cigarettes to people’s health. He gave an example of e-cigarettes, which contain aerosols that are harmful when inhaled.
In addition, he said these products are also believed to cause an increase in coughing and have been blamed for an increase in asthma cases among users. So far, his organization has expressed hope local researchers as well as the WHO can come up with clear data on the effects these products have on people.
One challenge activists face is the argument forwarded by the tobacco industry that some of these alternative products can help users quit traditional cigarettes because they have varying levels of nicotine.
The Kenya Tobacco Control Act covers all tobacco products and their derivatives, but the tobacco industry is introducing e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches as non-tobacco products which has brought about a grey area in enforcement, Lindi said.
He added there is a need for local enforcement agencies to be empowered and educated that these new products are tobacco derivatives and should face the same restrictions as all tobacco products.
To fight their rise, the alliance is also advocating for high taxation on all tobacco products.
“We believe a higher taxation regime on tobacco products will make them expensive, thus reducing their consumption. In addition, it will help us fight tobacco use among the youth because currently, tobacco products are easily available to them because of their low cost,” Lindi said.
Despite Kenya’s place as a tobacco-growing country, it has been observed tobacco farming exposes farmers to several diseases and complications related to the fertilizers they use. The alliance is working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to provide tobacco farmers with alternative crops, especially food crops, as a way of fighting tobacco at the source.
“By moving our farmers away from tobacco farming, we are also helping ensure food security in tobacco growing areas,” Lindi said.