•Cigarettes have no benefit to a human being but contain thousands of chemicals and 70 of them are known to cause cancer.
•The World Health Organization recommends that taxes should constitute at least 70 per cent of the taxes on cigarettes.
Health experts have warned the government’s plan not to raise taxes on tobacco and nicotine products will hurt the poor most, since they cannot afford treatment for diseases such as cancer.
Taxes on tobacco, nicotine and alcohol will not be raised for the first time in five years, according to the Finance Bill 2023.
However, the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca), and the legal think-tank International Institute for Legislative Affairs, have told MPs this is plainly wrong.
“This omission is troubling because, as per the Ministry of Health, tobacco usage claims the lives of approximately 9,000 Kenyan users annually,” Ketca chairman Joel Gitali said.
“It is crucial for a product with such detrimental health effects to be subject to higher taxes. Taxation has been proven to be an effective tool in reducing smoking rates and ensuring that tobacco duties contribute significantly to government revenues.”
He made the comments in an analysis of the Finance Bill 2023, that Ketca has presented to the National Assembly health committee.
Gitali said the affordability and easy accessibility of tobacco and alcohol products have played a significant role in enabling their widespread use, including among vulnerable populations, such as young children.
He said, “A report by the Ministry of Health in Kenya stated that tobacco and alcohol products are often sold at low prices, making them more accessible to individuals of all ages, including children.”
He said the World Health Organization recommends that taxes should constitute at least 70 per cent of the taxes on cigarettes.
Cigarettes have no benefit to a human being but it contains thousands of chemicals and 70 of them are known to cause cancer.
In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80 per cent to 90 per cent of lung cancer deaths.
Despite being known to kill, cigarettes are legal in many countries, including Kenya, largely because governments still collect taxes from the industry.
The World Health Organization recommends taxes on tobacco products should be raised every year to reduce consumption.
However, the government had shelved a tax hike this year due to intense lobbying by manufacturers who claimed that the higher taxes would result in lower revenues while leading to a spike in illicit trade.
Gitali said this is not true.
He said higher taxes on these products act as a deterrent by increasing their overall cost, making them less affordable.
“This is particularly important as tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory disorders,” he said.
“Studies have shown that higher prices can significantly decrease tobacco consumption, especially among vulnerable populations such as youth and low-income individuals. By curbing tobacco use, higher taxes contribute to reducing the burden of related health issues and associated healthcare costs.”
Ketca national coordinator Thomas Lindi told MPs that the tobacco industry must not be allowed to influence tax policies because that would be against the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the WHO treaty that Kenya signed in 2004.
“Allowing the tobacco and alcohol industry to have a say in setting tax rates can create conflicts of interest and undermine public health goals. The WHO emphasises the need to protect public health policies from interference by the tobacco industry," Lindi said.
"Research has consistently shown that the tobacco industry employs various tactics to undermine or manipulate the implementation of effective tobacco control measures,” he added.
Head of IILa Celine Awuor also urged Treasury to simplify the excise tax structure for tobacco and nicotine products in Kenya.
“By establishing a clear and straightforward tax system, the government can effectively discourage tobacco consumption and encourage smokers to quit or reduce their usage. Higher tax rates on such products have been proven to be an effective deterrent, particularly among youth and vulnerable populations,” she said.
“A simplified tax structure would facilitate the imposition of higher tax rates uniformly across different product categories, promoting a healthier lifestyle and reducing the prevalence of smoking-related diseases.”
Celine said simplifying the excise tax structure for tobacco and nicotine products in Kenya would bring the country in line with international best practices.
“Many countries have successfully simplified their tax structures and witnessed positive outcomes, such as reduced tobacco use, increased revenue, and improved public health,” she said.
Apart from the traditional cigarettes, the other highly-addictive nicotine delivery products being sold in Kenya include pouches (such as velo and lyft), electronic cigarettes, vaping devices, vaporisers, hookah pens, electronic cigarettes and e-pipes.
According to the WHO’s Global Nicotine Reduction Strategy, nicotine addiction induces permanent changes to the brain during adolescence.
The addiction also leaves teens with an increased risk of addiction to substances such as cannabis, heroin and cocaine.
Nicotine intake by a pregnant woman can also affect a developing baby's brain and lungs, according to WHO.
There is also scientific evidence illustrating that nicotine can facilitate a tumour-supporting environment and can harm a person’s DNA, leading to cancer.