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Groups turn up the heat over law on tobacco

Anti-smoking groups have launched fresh campaigns for the full implementation of the tobacco law. Above, displayed samples of cigarette brands.
Anti-smoking groups have launched fresh campaigns for the full implementation of the tobacco law. Above, displayed samples of cigarette brands. 

Anti-smoking groups have launched fresh campaigns for the full implementation of the tobacco law, putting the government in a new dilemma over the official handling of one of its top sources of revenue.

The groups said poor enforcement of the tobacco Act and non implementation of the FCTC has created room for new smoking addicts, with the number of affected school going children rising by eight per cent from 10 per cent in 2001.

Among other things, the tobacco Act 2007 bans advertising, promotion and sponsorship by tobacco firms. It was enacted as a follow up to the framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC), a UN convention that Kenya became the second country in the world after Norway to ratify in 2003.

The convention calls for steeper taxes on cigarette processors, pictorial warning on the dangers of smoking on packaging material and promoting the cultivation of alternative crops to tobacco.

“We acknowledge that the government has taken some good steps in the campaign against public smoking but the desired effect will only be felt when processors are compelled to display pictorial images of the harm caused by their products,” said Mr Fred Odhiambo, the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance’s (KETCA) secretary.

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A report on the implementation of FCTC in the country released in Nairobi on Monday by International Institute for Legislative Affairs (ILA) indicates that both the tobacco law and the UN convention are largely ignored in tobacco growing regions.

The report indicates that outdoor advertising through billboards, posters, branded buildings and signposts is still common in towns such as Migori, Embu, Mombasa, Kisumu Nyeri and Kakamega. The report also indicates that many sales outlets are still selling single-stick cigarettes to buyers despite the provision of the law that makes it clear that they be sold in packets to deter access by underage users.

“Most importantly, the government must make commitment to increase taxes on cigarettes because it has not done so in two fiscal years yet this is the most effective tool for tobacco control,” said ILA’s executive director Vincent Kimosop.

The fresh campaigns targeting the use of tobacco come just two weeks after the Kenya Revenue Authority feted tobacco firms among the top taxpayers of 2010. The Public Health ministry, the department charged with enforcing the tobacco law has at times issued statements that appear to put it in conflict with agriculture and trade ministry respectively.

According to Dr William Maina, the Head of Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation Division of Non Communicable Diseases, the government is counting on the aggressive implementation of tobacco law to reduce the level of smoking to 13 per cent in the next five years. But agriculture ministry is yet to issue official policy on the crop while trade ministry officials maintain cigarettes are important export commodities.

[email protected] ke.nationmedia. com

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