Tobacco firms are braced for a tougher operating regime in Kenya after the country joined delegates from other regions in endorsing stringent anti-smoking rules at a UN meeting in Uruguay.
The new measures reached last week by the 171 signatories to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) after a week-long meeting that ended on Saturday.
The steps are aimed at cutting the use of tobacco worldwide.
The countries approved the tough guidelines fronted by Canada seeking to prohibit the manufacture and sale of cigarettes that contain flavourings and additives. These components are believed to enhance attractiveness of tobacco products among users.
At the meeting, parties to FCTC resolved to draft guidelines for implementation of price and taxation policy of tobacco products.
The WHO convention obligates signatory countries to gradually raise taxes and prices of tobacco products in a move that is calculated to put them beyond the reach of many users.
“In Kenya, taxes on cigarettes have remained static over the last two fiscal years in spite of being the first country in the region to ratify FCTC,” said Mr John Kimosop, the executive director of the Institute for Legislative Affairs.
Also facing targeted for crackdown in the invigorated international campaigns are smokeless tobacco products and cross-border advertisement.
Enforcement agencies have hailed the development.
“At enforcement division, the action taken by the UN delegates supports the language that we have been speaking all along; it gives us the legal backing to start enforcing it,” said Mr Kepha Ombacho, the chief public health officer at Public Health and Sanitation ministry told Business Daily.
In October last year, Canada introduced a clause in its tobacco control legislation that extends a ban on the manufacture and sale of blended cigarettes, saying the additives played a bigger role in attracting youths to smoking.
The clause bans the manufacture and sale of Burley, Oriental and Virginia brands in Canada, outlawing flavours that manufacturers see as their main revenue drivers.
The incorporation of the Canadian clause into the WHO’s programme means signatories have the obligation to ban import and use of flavoured cigarettes within their territories.
In the region, tobacco producers like Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania have strongly contested the new laws, saying their export destinations are likely to use it as a technical barrier to trade.
On Monday, major manufacturers declined to comment, saying the matter was being handled at the African Union level.
Kenya, the second country in the world to ratify FCTC in 2003 after Norway, finalised its tobacco Act in 2007 banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Like FCTC, the Kenyan law does to outlaw cigarette production, sale and consumption outside public domain.
Government departments have issued conflicting statements on tobacco policy with trade and agriculture ministries taking the stand that it remains an important economic activity.
Agriculture ministry sees it as a source of employment for close to 40,000 farmers while Trade classifies the industry as an important foreign exchange earner.
Kenya is a significant producer of tobacco leaf in the region, with an approximate annual crop volume of 20,000 tonnes. Last year, the country earned Sh10.4 billion in foreign exchange from tobacco.
“We are not blind to economic benefits of tobacco but urge anyone counting them to weigh them against adverse effects such as tobacco related diseases and poverty that is rampant in growing areas,” said Mr Ibrahim Longolomoi, the head of occupational health and safety division at the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.
At the UN Meeting, the parties resolved to start integrating anti-smoking programmes into their national health systems in the hope of helping more smokers to quit the habit.
Of all the resolutions, tobacco firms in the country are expected to mount spirited campaign against last week’s resolution which sought to bind all the FCTC countries.
Dr Sam Ochola, an official at the Institute for Natural Resources and Technology, says that tobacco firms invest a lot of money in subsidising inputs for farmers, making it difficult for them to consider alternative crops
“Empirical studies have established that other farming ventures such as pineapple, pepper, passion fruits, watermelon or fish farming in areas currently dominated by tobacco will raise farmer’s incomes five times,” said Dr Ochola, who undertook one such study.