•The interference has enabled the tobacco industry to flood the Kenyan market with unregulated nicotine pouches and other unregulated products such as e-cigarettes.
•Recently, MPs asked the Ministry of Health to ban nicotine pouches in Kenya because they flout the Tobacco Control Act.
Kenya has Africa’s fastest deteriorating public health policies to protect its citizens from tobacco and harmful nicotine products, according to a new assessment.
Tobacco is the world’s biggest preventable cause of non-communicable diseases such as cancer.
Kenya has public health policies to protect citizens against tobacco.
However, the new assessment shows the tobacco industry in the country is audaciously and successfully fighting the implementation of those laws.
The 2023 Africa Tobacco Industry Interference Index, shows Kenya has Africa’s highest level of interference, compared to 2021.
“Eight countries showed deterioration from their 2021 rankings with Kenya recording the highest level of deterioration,” the new index shows.
It measures how governments are responding to tobacco industry interference and protecting their public health policies from commercial and vested interests of the industry as required by the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
The interference has enabled the tobacco industry to flood the Kenyan market with unregulated nicotine pouches and other unregulated products such as e-cigarettes.
Recently, MPs asked the Ministry of Health to ban nicotine pouches in Kenya because they flout the Tobacco Control Act.
"The [Health] CS should clarify if the substance has sneaked its way into the Kenyan market as a rebrand of Lyft that was banned by the government in 2019," Sabina Chege said in Parliament recently, referring to the Velo nicotine pouches sold in the country.
The Act requires nicotine and tobacco products to carry graphic and written health warnings in both English and Kiswahili, covering at least 30 per cent of the package.
All the pouches in Kenya currently have no graphic warnings and one brand carries a tiny, largely illegible warning, covering less than 10 per cent of the package.
The index proposes several recommendations for governments including maintaining a strong stance against tobacco industry interference, fast-tracking the passing of pending tobacco control laws, and building the capacity of tobacco control stakeholders.
The index is produced annually by the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) in collaboration with the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research, and the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC).
According to the report, Zambia, Tanzania, and Cameroon have the highest tobacco industry interference, with Cameroon recording the worst performance. Uganda, Ethiopia, and Botswana have the lowest rates of tobacco industry interference, with Botswana being the best-performing country.
ATCA executive secretary Leonce Sessou called on tobacco control actors to use the index to foster tobacco control advocacy in their respective countries.
Kenya’s umbrella body on tobacco control, the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance, said the country is going backward in protecting people’s health.
“This is very scary. Our focus and priorities changed. Individual egos and interest occupied the driver’s seat. It might get worse unless we all stand up to be counted. We need a rebirth,” Ketca chairman Joel Gitali said.
Dr Mary Assunta, lead author of the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, said the Africa index exposes how the major tobacco companies in the world push their selfish agenda in Africa, rather than support public health.
She pointed out that implementing tobacco control is possible and inexpensive, and the implementation of tobacco control laws greatly impacts public health.
Assunta urged tobacco control advocates to use the index to show governments the identified loopholes, adding that governments ought to be held accountable for the non-respect of engagements they take when ratifying the WHO FCTC.