Protect citizens from adverse health, social and economic impacts of tobacco products

The government of Kenya has continued to collaborate with health agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders in the efforts towards the fight to reduce tobacco consumption. This has been demonstrated through Kenya’s ratification of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004, in 2007, following 13 years of drafting and development, the Kenyan Parliament passed the Tobacco Control Act 2007 (TCA), the first step in efforts to domesticate the FCTC and also attempting to enact and implement legislation that decreases the prevalence of smoking, with the recent action being the raising of tobacco tax by 15%. Further, through the SGDs framework, Kenya has committed through goal 3 a, to strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate.

Through the signing of the FCTC treaty, the Kenyan Government is obligated to protect its public health measures from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, however, from the recent developments, BAT Kenya’s British parent company BAT Plc has disclosed that the Kenyan unit had stepped up talks with the government to address a regulatory dispute that has halted the sale of the nicotine pouches, which trade locally under the Lyft brand. The health cabinet secretary has mentioned that Kenya wants to classify nicotine pouches just like other tobacco products that are under the tobacco control law. The products should be taxed and regulated just like other tobacco products in the market. 

It is worth noting that the nicotine pouches have been classified as “less harmful alternatives” under the slogan “a better tomorrow”. But this is not the case as the products are still derived from tobacco and contain nicotine which is harmful to young people in any form. The pouches come in many flavors which have been proven to appeal to the youth. 

Kenya is obligated to provide for education, communication, training, and public awareness measures about the harms of tobacco products and the tactics used by the tobacco industry to undermine public health. The use of nicotine pouches still has the same/worse health effects to health just as the other forms of tobacco. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, nicotine is one of the most toxic of all poisons and has a rapid onset of action. Apart from local actions, the target organs are the peripheral and central nervous systems. In severe poisoning, there are tremors, prostration, cyanosis, dyspnea, convulsion, progression to collapse, and coma. Even death may occur from paralysis of respiratory muscles and/or central respiratory failure with an LD50 in adults of around 30-60 mg of nicotine.

Read our report Study on Effects of Tobacco

It is sad that even with the legislation to ban or restrict all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, we still have notorious vendors/retailers actively advertising these online. Just with a single search for the word ‘vape’ on Instagram, you get over ten pages advertising and selling nicotine pouches. In Kenya, an online retailer Jumia is an opportunity that has been exploited by the Industry to sell Lyft. The products have gained popularity in other Countries like Sweden as they are promoted through social media platforms, the use of pop stars, and sporting events. The government should enhance the implementation of this particular regulation to stem up the fight against the consumption of tobacco and tobacco-related products. 

BAT Kenya made public its intentions to push the Kenyan government for a three-year tax holiday on local production of nicotine pouches and similar products. In a report published in one of the local dailies dated 18th September 2020, BAT claimed that the nicotine pouches are less harmful than cigarettes and therefore should be given a tax grace period and be subjected to a much less tax thereafter. However, based on the facts above, pure nicotine products are harmful/and even worse than burnt tobacco. Also, Section 31(1) of the regulations Tobacco Control Regulations state that A public authority shall, while implementing investment and tax laws, and other policies related to tobacco, be guided by the priority to tackle the adverse health, social, economic, and environmental impacts of tobacco growing, manufacture, sale and consumption in Kenya. The industry’s intention to push for tax holidays comes at the time when the cigarette manufacturer BAT posted a 42% increase in net profit for the year ended December 30, 2020. The company’s net profit hit Kshs. 5.518 billion at the end of 2020, from Kshs. 3.885 Billion reported in 2019.

Read our report Study on Effects of Tobacco

Franciscah Marabu

Program Officer

National Taxpayers Association