Dealers make tidy profits selling nicotine pouches despite ban

There are many different types of e-cigarettes and thousands of different flavours on offer. PHOTO | BBC

The sale of liquid nicotine and e-cigarettes has continued unabated despite a ban, with dealers making double-digit profits riding on the restriction.

Anti-tobacco advocates and the National Parents Association(NPA) have also raised the alarm over the high number of school-going children who are getting hooked on smokeless tobacco products such as vapes, vaporisers, vape pens, and e-pipes.

They say preliminary findings indicate easy access to the products in high-end residential estates, schools based in and around university compounds and slums.

“Prevalence of sale and consumption of liquid nicotine continues despite the ban. The influx of oral nicotine such as Lyft and Velo is permeating the Kenyan market illegally making it easily accessible and affordable to the public including school-going children,” said Sam Ochieng, chief executive at Consumer Information Network (C.I.N) said.

Low taxation push

Initial findings of an ongoing study on Exposing Tobacco Industry Interference in Regulating Novel Tobacco Products in Kenya show that oral nicotine pouches are being sold contrary to the provision of sections 21, 22 and 23 of the Tobacco Control Act, 2007 and regulations of 2017.

The study, jointly conducted by the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca), International Institute of Legislative Affairs and the C.I.N accuses tobacco industry players of hijacking political and legislative procedures by improperly interacting with the National Treasury, MPs and the Executive to push for low taxation of the harmful and highly addictive products.

Tobacco firms have been marketing novel tobacco products as less harmful, cleaner and an alternative to cigarettes or other tobacco products currently on the market.

The nicotine pouches are placed under the lip or gum so that the nicotine can be absorbed by the body, but they do not contain tobacco. The government has since banned nicotine pouches.

Tobacco control laws

Oral nicotine pouches such as Lyft and Velo were introduced into the Kenyan market in 2019 as an alternative to conventional cigarettes.

Lyft nicotine pouches were registered in Kenya in 2020 by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) after the product had been introduced into the local market a year earlier.

However, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe imposed a ban on the pouches after accusing the board of flouting tobacco control laws when it licensed the sale of the pouches.

Charles Omwenga, the chair of the Nairobi Parents Association (NPA) said most primary and secondary schools are situated in unique places including university compounds, high-end estates and slums where the use of novel products are high.

“After Covid-19, we have noticed that about 13 to 17 percent of students and pupils enrolled in Nairobi are actively engaged with drugs,” Mr Omwenga said.

“We are working on a database base in which preliminary findings show between 480,000 to 500,000 secondary students and 260,000 primary pupils are hooked into drugs with cigarettes and bhang commonly abused.”

“The sad reality is that nicotine pouches are right in our houses. Our girls and boys are using the products because they think it’s cool. We are working to strengthen tobacco products testing,” Ann Kendagor, the acting head Tobacco control division at the Health ministry said.

Anthony Muthemba, the head of the Tobacco Control Unit at the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS) said the same nicotine pouches including Velo are contrary to section 21 of the Tobacco Control.

Tuck shops

While displaying several illicit nicotine pouch products, Mr Muthemba said most schools in Nairobi are surrounded by tuck shops which display and sell tobacco products together with candy, PK, sweets and biscuits.

“The tobacco industry has manipulated public opinions through electronic and print advertisement and intimidated government by blocking legislation on excise tax and operationalisation of Tobacco Control Regulations, 2017,” Karambu Muthaura, a tax and policy expert said during the launch of the findings.

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