PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCACY

Industry interference in tobacco control still rife in Kenya

Report cites the country’s inability to resist charitable contributions from tobacco companies.

In Summary

• The listing of tobacco as an essential product in April during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has tainted the country’s image on the global stage.

• The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 is a review of how governments respond to influences and protecting their public health policies from commercial interests.

Tobacco smoking
Tobacco smoking
Image: COURTESY

Kenya is among 15 countries performing poorly in stopping interference by tobacco industry players in control efforts.

The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 report released on Tuesday shines a spotlight on the country’s inability to resist charitable contributions from tobacco companies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The index is a review of how governments respond to influences and protect their public health policies from commercial interests as required under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

 

The report notes that the tobacco industry exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to engage with the government to an extraordinary level through charitable contributions.

This Index covers 57 countries from Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean region, Latin and North America, Europe, South and Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region.

In Kenya, although government officials are not allowed to endorse or accept such donations, they accepted a donation from the industry to the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund established by the President.

The listing of tobacco as an essential product in April during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has further tainted the country’s image on the global stage. For instance, the report notes that BAT Kenya contributed 300,000 litres of sanitiser to government agencies.

“In Kenya, the government listed tobacco products as 'essential products' under the foods and beverages category during the Covid-19 pandemic which meant logistics providers of those sectors were given protection and special permits to transport during the lockdown,” the report states.

It also puts senior government officials on the spot for engaging with the tobacco industry against the FCTC guidelines through awards, adding that in 2019, several countries recorded trivial awards given to tobacco companies where government departments and/or senior officials were present in the award ceremonies.

“In Kenya, the Deputy President graced the gala dinner for the winners of the 2019 Kenya Exporter of the Year Awards where BAT Kenya was awarded the Solid Rock Commendation (Lifetime Achievement) award,” the report says.

 

"Alongside the Deputy President, the Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, and the Export Promotion Council (EPC) chief executive officer were in attendance with other government officials.”

The Exporter of the Year Award is a project of Kenya EPC, a state agency.

The report, however, acknowledges Kenya’s effort in ensuring the health policies are protected from industry interference.

For instance, the country is among four that do not permit the industry a seat at the policy development table, reject industry proposals or drafts and do not allow the industry to water down or delay control measures.

The report also found that a lack of transparency in interactions with the tobacco industry and conflict of interest issues persist.

Guidelines recommend the government ensure transparency by requiring periodic disclosures from the industry about its activities and practices. When procedures to obtain such information are in place, the information can guide officials in preventing interference.

“Kenya, France, Canada, Ethiopia and Peru have fared well in facilitating transparency when interacting with the tobacco industry,” it states.

On the issue of conflict of interest, the report finds that public officials employed by the tobacco industry or vice versa create conflicts of interest, yet guidelines bar government officials and employees from such conflicts.

"Reality, however, shows there is a revolving door of former public officials joining the tobacco industry and vice versa. In some instances, an individual can have a foot in both the government and the industry simultaneously.”

The document says several countries have made progress in drawing up measures to guide officials in their interactions with the tobacco industry.

However, there was deterioration in unnecessary interactions and no progress in the implementation of preventive measures as Kenya waits for its Cabinet to prescribe a code of conduct for public officials.