British American Tobacco (BAT) has lamented plans by Kenya’s Health ministry to classify its nicotine pouches as tobacco products regulated under the tobacco control law.
The Health ministry in early February ruled the sale and distribution of BAT nicotine pouches, trading under Lyft brand, be done under the Tobacco Control Act —a move that would place the nicotine pouches under similar taxation and marketing restrictions that are imposed on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
BAT East Africa managing director Crispin Achola however said they are opposed to the plans.
“When we have looked at the guidance given, we feel that for it to be fully operationalised, there’s still some fine-tuning and some additions that need to made into the Act to make sure that it’s inclusive of the science behind the new product,” he said.
BAT, which has put up $25 million (Sh2.74 billion) manufacturing plant in Nairobi for 21-country Comesa trading bloc, argues there should be a less stringent regulation for the new products under the Tobacco Control Act.
The adoption of the ministry’s preliminary regulatory framework will see BAT’s Lyft products slapped with marketing restrictions such as promotions and advertising as well as use in public areas as is the case with cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The tobacco law has regulations for combustible tobacco such as cigarettes and smokeless category which include electronic cigarettes.
“We believe there’s need to be a third category (in the Act) that speaks specifically to oral nicotine pouches, and that’s what we have advised the government. We are optimistic that the government understands the science requires specific regulation under oral nicotine to be developed,” Mr Achola said.
“This is a reduced risk product compared with cigarettes. We believe that if there’s a demand that excise tax be paid on it… it should be less tax than the lowest tier of cigarettes.”
A host of civil society lobbies such as International Institute for Legislative Affairs have protested free sale of nicotine pouches, calling for heavy taxation and regulations.
BAT, however, says the Lyft product is a safer alternative to cigarettes which have been linked to increased risk of contracting life-threatening diseases such as cancer as well lung and heart diseases.
The firm has in recent years been diversifying from cigarettes in response to flagging sales across the world.
As part of the global strategy, Kenya was chosen to host a plant for production of non-combustible nicotine pouches targeting the African market at an estimated cost of Sh2.5 billion.
The new Nairobi-based nicotine focused factory, which BAT Kenya says is the first of its kind in Africa, was part of the group's plan to follow the changing habits of tobacco consumers.
But the sale of the pouches has been strongly resisted by lobbies, which want the new products heavily taxed and regulated just like tobacco products.