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Kakamega: Residents reject proposed graphic health warnings on tobacco products

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Members of the public in Kakamega opposed proposed changes to the graphic health warnings for tobacco products

A section of Kakamega residents have rejected the proposed new graphic health warnings on tobacco products.

Th resident said the warnings fail to differentiate between traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes from Kakamega County on Friday 3rd May 2024, stakeholders said the smokeless nicotine products are meant to help smokeless nicotine products such as pouches and vapes.

Speaking at a public participation exercise for the consideration of the draft warnings held at the Masinde Muliro University in smokers to quit the vice as they carry less risk than traditional cigarettes.

In their submission to the Ministry of Health, they said that smokeless products should therefore not be clustered in the same category as cigarettes and should instead be profiled as safer alternatives.

In the draft health warnings, the Ministry of Health is proposing to have similar graphic health messages across both tobacco and non-tobacco products creating the impression that consumers of the non-tobacco products risk suffering the same health risks as those who consume tobacco products.

According to the notice issued by the Ministry of Health inviting members of the public to share their views on draft warnings, tobacco products that are manufactured, imported, distributed, and sold in Kenya are supposed to contain both Text and Graphic Health Warnings.

According to the MoH, graphic health warnings are anchored in law to increase knowledge about risks associated with tobacco use, deter initiation to tobacco, reduce tobacco consumption and persuade tobacco users to quit, and to break the challenges of languages and the inability to read text-only messages.

But now experts are faulting the ministry’s decision to apply them universally across both tobacco and non-tobacco products sold by the industry, asking for a reconsideration of the move.

“When you look at these pictorials, forty percent of them are actually accurate and factual but sixty percent of them do not have scientific basis. The Ministry of Health has not differentiated between products that have tobacco and products that have nicotine. We use the products that have nicotine to help people quit from cigarettes,” said Dr. Nashon Okanga, Physician and Lecturer.

At the same function, the Ministry of Health was accused of holding double standards for demanding for health warnings on tobacco products while failing to do the same on similarly harmful products and commodities such as sugar, salt, alcohol, red meat, and genetically modified foods.

Some participants expressed skepticism over the outcome of the public participation exercise accusing the Ministry of having predetermined outcomes that render the ongoing process academic.

Commenting on this, Kakamega County’s chairman of the Bars, Hotels, and Liquor Traders Association, George Kirungu Obege, said: “The Ministry of Health people seem to have come here having predetermined what they want and, as such, what they just wanted us to endorse their proposals. Fortunately [for us], they found that most of our people who belong to the hotel industry do not like the ideas presented. If it was proper public participation, they would take our input, consolidate it and make some points out of it. But you see they want us to just accept and rubber stamp what they have presented – which is not possible.”

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