Why Kenya needs effective tobacco control regulations

Emma wanyonyi
Kenya’s tobacco control community is waiting for its high court  to rule on  a case where tobacco giant British American Tobacco questioned the Kenyan Department of Health’s authority to institute the Tobacco Control Regulations.  Emma Wanyonyi explains why tobacco control in urgently needed.

2017 has been a significant year for tobacco control and public health in Kenya. We marked 10 years since the enactment of the Tobacco Control Act, which was assented into law on September 27, 2007 and commenced on October 8, 2007.

This achievement did not come easy, it was as a result of years of struggle against heavy interference by the tobacco industry in the legislative process.

Three years earlier, on June 25, 2004, Kenya became one of first countries to sign and ratify the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO- FCTC) — the first public health treaty under the auspices of the WHO — on the same day.

This was a great show of commitment by our government to the protection of public health of its citizens.

It is, however, sad to note that 10 years down the line, the country is yet to finalise regulations to bring into effect sections of the Act that need further elaboration.

Even with this and related challenges, Kenya has remained a leader in tobacco control and a model for other countries in the region.

Studies have shown that more than six million people die from tobacco use every year, the majority of them in their most productive years. And about 80 per cent in low and middle-income countries.

Tobacco use is a major risk factor for non- communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes.

It is also a risk factor for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and lower respiratory infections. It is for this reason that the implementation of the WHO-FCTC is included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that world leaders adopted in September 2015 at the UN General Assembly.

In fact, it is recognised as one of the “means of implementation” to reach the overall health goal and a target on NCDs under the SDGs.

Beyond health, tobacco touches, in one way or another, all the other 16 goals, and reducing tobacco use is critical to achieving the sustainable development goals. Tobacco control should therefore form part of the agenda of SDG implementation in Kenya.

Kenya has done tremendously well in tobacco control. Enforcement of smoke-free environments has ensured that to a large extent smoking is happening only in designated smoking areas, thereby protecting non-smokers from exposure to tobacco smoke.

Further, large text warnings have provided the necessary information on the harmful effects of tobacco use.

A comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship has protected our young ones from misleading portrayal of tobacco products, their consumption and impact and reduced marketing avenues for the industry.

The country has also over the past five years streamlined tobacco tax policies through simplification of the tax structure, comparable rates for all tobacco products and adjusting for inflation.

 *Emma Wanyonyi is the CEO of the Institute for Leglislative Affairs in Kenya. This article first appeared in the The Star in Kenya.