UPHOLD BAN

BAT pushes to sell nicotine pouches, health advocates say No

Health promotion advocates want the ministry to uphold the current ban on the products

In Summary

•The CS in September last year declared the registration of nicotine pouches commonly known as Lyft as illegal consequently temporarily ceased being in the market.

•The poisons board had registered it as a pharmaceutical product.

The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance chairman Joel Gitali speaks to journalists at a Nairobi Hotel on October 9, 2021
The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance chairman Joel Gitali speaks to journalists at a Nairobi Hotel on October 9, 2021
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

Tobacco control lobbyists have called on the Health CS Mutahi Kagwe to ignore in totality a request by a leading manufacturer to allow the sale of nicotine pouches. 

The CS in September last year declared the registration of nicotine pouches, commonly known as 'Lyft', as illegal.

Kagwe in a letter to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board said the licensing of the pouches was done contrary to the provisions of Section 25 of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act CAP 224.

The poisons board had registered it as a pharmaceutical product.

Kagwe noted that the nicotine pouches do not meet the descriptions as outlined in the Act, adding that the manner in which the products are sold to the public contravenes the law provisions.

Tobacco products manufacturer-BAT wants to be allowed to trade in the products in the local market.

In a letter to the CS seen by The Star, BAT wants to be allowed to put 10 per cent warning signs, against the current 30 per cent at the front and 50 per cent at the back of the packages.

In the letter, the company noted that the resumption of factory operations and sale of the nicotine pouches in the county ‘hinges on the provision of appropriate text health warnings for the product’ adding that the CS ‘has the discretion to adjust the size, text type of any of the health messages, pictures or pictograms’.

This is as prescribed in Section 21(2) of the schedule to the tobacco control act, to promote a greater understanding of the risks associated with tobacco use.

“We therefore kindly request that the Cabinet Secretary exercise this discretion and direct that oral nicotine pouches such as Lyft apply text health warnings in the form and format as shared in this letter,” the letter reads in part.

LYFT is a nicotine pouche marketed by BAT Kenya as an alternative to cigarettes for addicted smokers.
LYFT is a nicotine pouche marketed by BAT Kenya as an alternative to cigarettes for addicted smokers.
Image: COURTESY

But in a rejoinder, health promotion advocates want the ministry to uphold the current ban on the products by sticking to the Kenya Tobacco Control Act and the WHO’S Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).

The act outlaws any involvement of the tobacco industry in the formulation of health laws.

The Tobacco Control Alliance has said that the WHO-FCTC which Kenya is a signatory to and ratified in 2004, clearly states that the industry must not sit at the table where tobacco control laws are drafted.

“But in Kenya, it is the industry that is purporting to draft laws on behalf of the government. Of course, they draft loophole-ridden legislation and then wait to exploit them,” KETCA chairman Joel Gitali said.

Gitali noted that assertions by the tobacco industry that nicotine pouches present the lowest health risk are based on fraudulent science as no data exists to show the pouches are safe or effective in helping those who wish to quit cigarette smoking.

“Nicotine pouches come with their own risks, including skin irritation, addiction, and gum disease. Nicotine use during adolescent has been shown to impact learning attention span and proneness to addiction,” Gitali said.

The product has been gaining popularity since it was introduced in the market late last year.

LYFT is a nicotine pouch marketed in Kenya by BAT as an alternative to cigarettes for addicted smokers.

The pouch is placed under the mouth between the lip and the gums for extended periods.

The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance National Coordinator Thomas Lindi speaks to journalists at a Nairobi Hotel on October 9, 2021
The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance National Coordinator Thomas Lindi speaks to journalists at a Nairobi Hotel on October 9, 2021
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

A warning written on the product says it contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance.

Of great concern, however, is that they are being abused by children as they are sold over the counter and are easily found even in local shops for Sh20.

“The 10 per cent warning ploy easily disintegrates when subjected to scrutiny. Numerous countries have actually banned the sale of nicotine pouches because they have no benefit, but only help deliver very addictive chemical to the body,” KETCA National Coordinator Thomas Lindi said.

He added: “Any substantive beneficial effect of nicotine on the human body is yet to be proven. Any nicotine should be used only under supervision of trained medical practitioner therefore its sale needs to be strictly regulated.”

Despite the ban, the product is still being sold in the country, something that has been attributed to weak enforcement.