PROFILE

Story of Kenya's youth advocate in tobacco control drive

Martha knows the achievements so far are significant, but not enough.

In Summary

•In 2016, a Kenyan court upheld tobacco control regulations, mandating that tobacco companies adhered to pictorial health warnings, ingredient disclosures, and that a portion of profits be used for tobacco control education and research. In 2017, the country banned shisha smoking.

Martha Kombe
DETERMINED: Martha Kombe

Much earlier in her life, Martha Kombe, now 24, watched someone close to her fight lung cancer and lose. Since then she has made a vow to help people avoid the agony that comes with such a painful disease.

The pledge has greatly influenced Ms Kombe’s path. She singles out Kenya’s recent ratification of the protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products as a key moment. Although not directly involved in her country’s latest achievement, her Den of Hope Youth Group has steadfastly campaigned against tobacco use. “I am grateful to be associated with stakeholders in this outstanding milestone,” she says.

In a recent YouTube video, the youth and tobacco control advocate, wearing a baseball cap and maroon-rimmed glasses outlines in 50 seconds why people should quit smoking.

Her delivery is clear and deliberate: “You might be wondering, ‘why are we advocating for tobacco control?’” she asks before explaining the tobacco’s effect on lungs, also pointing out the additional risks smoking poses given the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Den of Hope Youth Group is closely involved in antitobacco campaigns targeting young people. “They are the most vulnerable and, sadly, the targets of the tobacco industries,” she explains.

The group uses a variety of methods to spread the message, from social media campaigns, participating in public forums and talks, signing open letters to policy makers, and peer-to-peer counselling.

“One way I believe we can never go wrong is by meaningfully involving the youth through innovative channels,” says MS Kombe. “We know our own problems. If we are involved and shown direction then we can find our solutions…”

Funding is limited, coming mostly from occasional donations and local resource mobilization. The youth group amplifies its message with support from the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance, which brings together civil society organizations advocating tobacco control and allows the organizations to speak with one voice.

At local fairs, antismoking advocates educate the public. Detailed posters and pictures show the consequences of prolonged tobacco use on different parts of the body.

Despite limited funding, the 20-strong youth group has made remarkable contribution to anti-tobacco campaign in Kenya. With the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance, their advocacy extends past the community level, at times playing a role in notable policy changes and court decisions influencing tobacco consumption in Kenya.

In 2016, a Kenyan court upheld tobacco control regulations, mandating that tobacco companies adhered to pictorial health warnings, ingredient disclosures, and that a portion of profits be used for tobacco control education and research. In 2017, the country banned shisha smoking.

Martha knows the achievements so far are significant, but not enough. “More advocacy still needs to be done as tobacco industries keep changing tactics.”