Delegates brace for face off over new anti-smoking rule

Tobacco farming. Tobacco firms are major tax payers in Kenya and support many rural farmers. Photo/FILE
Tobacco farming. Tobacco firms are major tax payers in Kenya and support many rural farmers. Photo/FILE 

Kenya and Tanzanian trade delegates are headed for another face-off as the anti smoking rule fronted by Canada comes up for review by the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on Tuesday.

Tanzania has said its delegation will appeal against Canada’s proposed law which seeks to control smoking by encouraging alternative cash crops to tobacco, while banning other ingredients used in cigarette manufacturing.

The proposed law, which is expected to come into force later this year, has since filtered into the draft guidelines of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organisation sending shockwaves among tobacco producing states.

Tobacco producing nations see the Canadian law as a technical barrier to trade and have expressed fears that its adoption by WTO could significantly hurt their exports.

Next week, both WTO’s dispute resolution body and the committee on technical barriers to trade are set to hold special meetings where the law, which has attracted strong opposition from 14 other countries led by the US, Indonesia and Tanzania, will feature prominently.

Kenya, on the other hand, is a member of the FCTC and has enacted a stringent anti tobacco bill, but Trade ministry officials could not immediately confirm what position the country has taken on the raging debate.

“We are in a dilemma because the Agriculture ministry treats tobacco as a cash crop while the Health ministry is on the campaign to restrict its consumption. Our position will be clearer once the two departments give us a unified signal,” a senior Trade ministry official who asked not to be quoted said.

The official said Kenya will not send delegates from Nairobi but will be represented by commercial attachés.

If Kenya stands by its own legislation and takes sides with the anti-tobacco crusaders, it will be the second time in as many months that it faces off with Tanzania — her partner in the East African custom union.

In March, Kenya successfully mobilised the international community to extend the ivory trade ban, defeating a position spearheaded by Tanzania and Zambia which have stockpiles of the commodity.

Last October, Canada amended its tobacco law — which was initially targeted at firms that market tobacco openly to the youth — to include banning of the manufacture and sale of traditional blended cigarettes.

Tobacco producing countries of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania have contested the amended law saying it indirectly targets barley and oriental tobacco used in cigarettes, hurting farmers.

At the African Tobacco Growers Association’s (ITGA) meeting held in Zanzibar over the weekend, Tanzania’s Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives ministry PS Mohamed Muya said the decision to challenge the Canadian law was reached to protect the country’s economy.

“We are taking this step aware of the potential harm on the demand of our tobacco if the Canadian articles find their way into the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control,” Mr Muya said.

The law seeks to ban specific additives and flavourings used in traditional blended cigarettes.

Mr Muya said the government position takes into cognizance the importance of tobacco production to farming communities.

Like in Tanzania where tobacco farming supports 80,000 farmers and contributes gross income of about $217 million (Sh17bn) per annum, tobacco firms are major tax payers in Kenya and support many rural farmers.

Alternative crops

Kenya’s current anti-tobacco regulation does not directly outlaw the crop’s farming, but calls for promotion of economically viable alternative crops to tobacco.

Last month, the Kenya Tobacco Control Board (KTCB) reacted angrily to joint plans between BAT Kenya and UAP Insurance to introduce crop insurance cover to contracted tobacco farmers.

“The board will make sure that the two firms do not get away with this because we have the law on our side,” said Peter Odhiambo, the chairman of the board.

But the warning has kicked off a war of words between the industry and the regulator over the correct interpretation of the country’s tobacco legislation. Julie Adell-Owino, BAT Kenya’s head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, maintained that the Tobacco Control Act does not prevent the industry from engaging its partners and contributing positively to their welfare.

“It would be extremely irresponsible of us to remain unresponsive to key issues of concern to the farmers,” he said.