Tobacco experts asked Kenya to increase taxation on tobacco products

World Health Organisation graphic on increasing tobacco tax. International Tobacco Control experts recommend that Kenya start reducing access to and affordability of tobacco products through taxation
World Health Organisation graphic on increasing tobacco tax. International Tobacco Control experts recommend that Kenya start reducing access to and affordability of tobacco products through taxation

A team of the International Tobacco Control experts has recommended that Kenya embark on reducing access to and affordability of tobacco products through taxation.

The experts further observed that the country has to strengthen enforcement of the ban on the sale of cigarettes by single sticks.

“The implementation of Kenya’s Act requires strengthening and improved enforcement to address weaknesses across key policy domains that include health warnings, tobacco taxation, and public education,” Professor Geoffrey Fong, the project Principal Investigator said in Nairobi.

He said that the country has to strengthen the current health warnings by using pictorial health warnings on at least 50 percent of the top part of the front and back of the packet as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

“Kenya is making a good stride so far but the government must ban misleading deceptive messaging such as mild, light and low tar and also strengthen enforcement of the ban on tobacco advertising through the media,’ he noted.

According to the experts, Kenya’s tobacco act is effective in some policy areas such as providing protection in some public places from the harms of secondhand smoke.

The tobacco control act has been successful in creating smoke-free public transportation and curbing tobacco advertising but called for urgent action to further reduce secondhand smoke in bars and workplaces and also to increase knowledge of the harms of tobacco use.

The survey by the experts that was done in 2012 and released today found that about three-quarters (76 percent) of tobacco users are in favor of a ban on tobacco products within 10 years if the government provided assistance such as cessation clinics.

They called on the government to establish cessation services to support tobacco users who wish to quit.

The experts noted that tobacco users in Kenya are not well connected to sources of cessation assistance adding that 20 percent of tobacco users reported that they had visited a doctor or other health provider in the last 6 months.

They said that it is well established that advice to quit from a physician or health provider is a powerful motivator for quitting. Of those who were given advice to quit, 82 percent reported that the advice made them think about quitting tobacco.

They found that 70 percent of smokers are willing to pay more for tobacco products while 60 percent of smokers, support an increase on cigarette taxes.

“These findings are favorable for stronger tobacco control regulations to bring Kenya into compliance with the FCTC and its guidelines,” Professor Fong said.

The survey data suggest that tobacco use has increased since the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) conducted in 2008-09, which found that 19 percent of men and 1.8 percent of women use tobacco. However this survey found that 16 percent of adults in Kenya — 27 percent of men and 5 percent women were current tobacco product users.

The types of tobacco products used differ between men and women – 83 percent of male tobacco users mainly use smoked tobacco products (primarily cigarettes), while 66 percent of female tobacco users mainly use smokeless products.

As a whole 87 percent of Kenyan cigarette smokers smoke mainly factory-made cigarettes while 12 percent smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, and one percent smokes both forms of cigarettes.

The survey revealed that male smokers in Kenya have a higher use of menthol and sweet menthol cigarettes (about 2 in 10 smokers of a usual brand), compared to male smokers in most other ITC countries.

This is of concern for tobacco control efforts because flavorings such as menthol can produce cigarettes that deliver a smoother sensation on the respiratory system, and this smoother sensation has been shown to be strongly related to palatability and the belief that these cigarettes are less harmful, and leads to smoking initiation and youth smoking.

“40 percent of Kenyan smokers have tried to quit smoking cigarettes, and 17 percent are planning to quit in the next 6 months,” Dr. Jane Ongango, a co-Investigator revealed.

Dr. Ongango observed that 81 percent of those keen on quitting site personal health while 64 percent are doing so to set a good example for the children.

Dr. Ongango observed that despite the presence of specific text warnings indicating that tobacco (including smokeless tobacco) can cause mouth cancer, heart disease, and impotence, only 38 percent of smokeless users were aware that smokeless tobacco causes mouth cancer while 65 percent of smokers were aware that smoking causes heart disease.

“Only 53 percent of smokers and 33 percent of smokeless users were aware that smoking causes impotence,” she added.

The Ministry of Health has taken steps to improve the health warnings by proposing the 2014 Tobacco Control Regulations to require pictorial warnings on 30 percent of the front and 50 percent of the back of the pack.

The Regulations propose that a set of 15 rotating pictorial health warnings be required on all packages of smoked and smokeless tobacco.

The 2007 tobacco control act bans the promotion of tobacco by any means, including packaging, that are false, misleading or deceptive, or that are likely to create an erroneous impression about the characteristics or health effects of tobacco use.

Kenya signed and ratified the FCTC in June 2004, and the treaty became effective as of February 27, 2005. Kenya’s 2007 Tobacco Control Act came into force in July 2008, providing the legal framework for the implementation of FCTC policies in Kenya.

The survey was done by the University of Waterloo, the International Institute for Legislative Affairs (IILA), the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Ministry of Health, and the University of Nairobi (UoN).

It was conducted in October to December 2012 where 1,427 tobacco users and 571 non-users were interviewed.

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