Lobbyists have opposed cigarette makers’ bid for changes to the Kenya Tobacco Control Act 2007, saying smoking is a national disaster.
On Tuesday, the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca) asked the government not to budge on the rules in order to make tobacco hard to access, adding that 81.7 per cent of young smokers had confessed to having been lured into the habit through advertisements.
Some 13.2 per cent of the smokers had owned up to having received free cigarettes from tobacco companies during a marketing campaigns, said Ketca’s communication officer Lucy Anaya at a meeting in Nairobi.
“In such a situation, we can only hope that the government, through the Health and Trade ministries, will push for a tougher business environment for tobacco products,” said Ms Anaya.
Movement Against Substance Abuse in Africa (Masaa) executive director Peter Gaku said relaxing the regulations pauses health risks.
“Tobacco related ailments are killing on average 15,000 Kenyans per year. Of these, 5,000 are passive smokers. The government collects Sh5billion in taxes from the tobacco industry whereas it uses Sh20 billion to treat the ailments,” he said.
Dr Gaku said Kenyans smoked an average of six billion cigarettes per year, about 200 sticks per individual.
The comments come in the wake of a meeting held last week between British American Tobacco (BAT) and Trade minister Chirau Mwakwere in which BAT chairman Evanson Mwaniki pointed out clauses that he said restricted marketing and promotion of tobacco products.
“It is clear that some clauses in the Act are against business performance. Others are purely populist and do not have any public health justification,” Mr Mwaniki said.
Mr Mwakwere was noncommittal on the issue.
On Tuesday, World Health Organisation official Joyce Nato said one person dies from tobacco use every 6.5 seconds globally, equivalent to 13,699 people per day.
This is more than the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis, HIV/Aids and Malaria combined.
Cancer researcher William Maina said 1.8 billion young people aged 10 to 24 were hooked to smoking, sniffing and chewing tobacco.
More than 85 per cent of them are in developing countries.
In Kenya, he said, one in every five students in primary and secondary schools abuses tobacco.
“By next year, another 19.4 per cent of non-smokers are likely to be indoctrinated into tobacco use,” he said.
He said 27.4 per cent of youth who smoke live in homes where others smoke in their presence.
“Encouraging though, 52.8 per cent of the smoking children say the habit should be banned in order to help them quit what they concur is dangerous to both their health and the environment,” he said.