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Kenya registers a decline in tobacco usage with emerging tobacco products posing a new challenge

Public Health and Professional Standards PS Mary Muthoni.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2022 KDHS) shows a decrease in tobacco use from 12% in 2014 to 9% in 2022.

State Department for Public Health and Professional Standards Principal Secretary (PS) Mary Muthoni said that despite the progress Kenya now faces new challenges with the rapid proliferation of Novel Nicotine and Emerging Tobacco Products (NNETPs), such as nicotine pouches, vapes, and electronic cigarettes.

The PS said that these products are often marketed as less harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes and are targeted toward young people with appealing flavors and misleading health claims.

“The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Development Partners and Civil Society Organizations, aims to leverage World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) 2024 to increase awareness of the dangers associated with both conventional tobacco products and NNETPs,” said the PS.

She said that her ministry is seeking to create awareness on the adverse effects of tobacco and nicotine products on public health, contributing to increased morbidity and mortality in Kenya and globally.

“Additionally, Kenya has joined and is observing World Tobacco Day (WNTD), a global day promoting health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce consumption,” said the PS

“Established by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987, this day has been celebrated annually on 31st May since 1988. This year’s theme, “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference,” aligns with the WHO’s “Stop the Lies” campaign, a vital initiative to shield young people from the manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry,” she added.

Muthoni noted that the campaign calls for an end to tobacco industry interference in health policy, a demand echoed by youth globally who urge governments to protect them from the dangers of tobacco products.

The PS said that Kenya has made significant strides in tobacco control, including the implementation of stringent regulations and policies aimed at reducing tobacco use. Key achievements include establishment of a Multi-Sector Task Force.

“A dedicated task force was established to investigate novel nicotine and other emerging tobacco products, shedding light on various aspects of these products and their potential impact on public health. Implementation of the recommendations is currently underway,” explained the PS.

She added that Kenya has continued to enforce the Tobacco Control Act of 2007, which mandates graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and bans smoking in public places. Enforcement of smoke-free laws has led to significant reductions in exposure to second-hand smoke in public areas.

Muthoni further highlighted that a comprehensive review of the Tobacco Control Act was conducted to amend and align it with current market dynamics.

“An Omnibus Bill carrying several amendments, including the ban on shisha, is currently under consideration,” said the PS.

She added that a dedicated multi-agency enforcement team was established to ensure compliance with tobacco control regulations and to crack down on illicit tobacco trade.

“Public awareness campaigns, especially focusing on youth and vulnerable groups, were intensified through various media platforms, educating the public on the risks of tobacco use,” she said.

Reiterating Kenya’s commitment to developing and enforcing stringent health policies against tobacco and nicotine products, the PS said that the Ministry of Health has planned a series of activities to mark the World No Tobacco Day on 31st May 2024 and they including a one-Day Sensitization Session for the County Health workforce, focusing on enforcement officers.

“We have also organized a Two-Day School Sensitization Program targeting identified secondary and primary schools, aligning with this year’s theme. Other activities include Media Engagements encompassing interviews, panel discussions on selected TV and radio stations, print media special pullouts, opinion articles, and social media engagements,” said the PS.

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