•A research group from the University of Nairobi found that Kenyans are choosing unregulated and potentially dangerous tobacco and traditional oral stimulants.
•This is despite safer alternatives being available on the market.
Companies dealing in tobacco products are slowly moving away from traditional products, diversifying into new lines of business with a focus on harm reduction.
This, as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) continues to bank on excise tax as one of its main revenue streams, with tobacco products being among excisable goods.
Excise duty contributed to KRA’s growth in revenue collection, which saw the taxman surpass the financial year 2021-2022, quarter one (July – September 2021) target of Sh461.653 billion by Sh14.992 billion, collecting 476.646billion.
Domestic Excise amounted to Sh15.392 billion, and a growth of 20.7 per cent, over the first quarter last year, compared to a growth of 12.0 per cent recorded in the last financial year.
KRA attributed the overall performance to “reopening of the economy and enhanced compliance efforts by the authority.”
“The country is on an economic recovery path with the economy projected to grow by 6.3 per cent in financial year 2021/22, hence a positive impact on revenue performance,” Commissioner General Githii Mburu said.
The diversification by companies comes as a research group from the University of Nairobi(Faculty of Medicine), found that Kenyans are choosing unregulated and potentially dangerous tobacco and traditional oral stimulants, despite safer alternatives being available on the market.
The report titled “Review of the risks and toxicants of smokeless tobacco, areca nut and khat products available in Kenya” is a first major analysis of the health risks of traditional tobacco and oral stimulants available in Kenya.
The research compares the risk profile of traditional tobacco and different oral stimulants used by Kenyans that are available through legal and unregulated channels.
It found that users who choose modern and science-backed tobacco-free nicotine products like, pouches and nicotine replacement therapies had the lowest exposure risk to cancer-causing chemicals.
“The high use of traditional tobacco and unregulated oral stimulants in Kenya that have little or no quality control in terms of levels of toxicants or psychoactive ingredients is very concerning,” notes Dr Michael Kariuki, lead researcher of the report.
“While there are alternative, modern, less risky and regulated alternatives available on the market, transition to these products is unfortunately very slow,” Kariuki adds.
Key research findings include one in five men use tobacco in Kenya, putting them at high risk of multiple cancers and cardiovascular disease.
About 4.1 per cent of adults use khat and 3.6 per cent of adults use chewing tobacco, snuff, pan, or gutkha.
These products are potentially high risk to physical health with little or no quality control in terms of levels of toxicants or psychoactive ingredients.
Samples of traditional chewing tobaccos have been found to be contaminated with heroin, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
Modern tobacco-free nicotine products, like pouches and nicotine replacement therapies expose users to lower levels of toxicants and are therefore comparatively less risky, according to experts.
The research showed that the risk profile of modern tobacco-free nicotine products was found to be significantly lower than other traditional tobacco and oral products.
Well-known carcinogenic toxicants including nitrosamines, radionuclides, aflatoxins) are not detectable in modern tobacco-free nicotine products.
Commenting on the reduced risk profile of nicotine replacement therapies and pouches, Kariuki said:“Rather than being a source of harm like traditional tobacco and oral products, modern tobacco-free nicotine alternatives have the opportunity to reduce smoking-related disease. It’s important that current and future regulatory frameworks recognise that these products are comparatively low risk.”
The report includes several recommendations, including carrying out an in-depth analysis of the ingredients and toxicants in imported and locally produced smokeless tobacco, areca nut and khat products.
It also called on regulators to investigate the presence of other drugs in locally produced products.
“What is clear from this research is that about 7.7 per cent of Kenyans are using unregulated products that pose a high risk to their health. There is urgent need for more research into the different risk profiles of these products and the impact they have on our communities,” Kariuki said.
Joseph Magero, representative of Tobacco Harm Reduction Kenya said: “We should be making much greater efforts to encourage Kenyans to use lower risk products, such as tobacco-free nicotine pouches. Not only do they reduce their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals but they provide a viable alternative to the millions of tobacco-users in our country.”