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Kenya’s tobacco industry calls for factual, science-based regulation

Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year.
Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year.

Kenya’s tobacco industry is calling for factual and science-based regulation, urging for differentiation of product categories in the consideration of newly proposed graphic health warnings for tobacco products.

This follows the publication of the draft health warnings for tobacco products by the Ministry of Health (MoH) which the ministry proposes to be applied indiscriminately across traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes and across tobacco-free oral nicotine products such as vapes and nicotine pouches.

According to the MoH, graphic health warnings were entrenched in the Tobacco Control Act, of 2007 to increase knowledge about risks associated with tobacco use and deter initiation to tobacco.

However, tobacco industry players, health experts, and harm reduction campaigners have questioned MoH’s decision to include graphic health warnings on tobacco-free products, saying they should be differentiated from traditional tobacco products.

Speaking on the sidelines of a public participation exercise for the consideration of the draft graphic health warnings in Embu County today, BAT Kenya Managing Director, Crispin Achola urged the MoH to reconsider the proposal to introduce graphic health warnings on tobacco-free smokeless nicotine products, saying this puts them in the same risk category as traditional cigarettes and tobacco products.

He said: “As an organisation, we believe that given the nature of the category we are in, regulation has to be put into place to govern how the product is produced, marketed and distributed; so, we are pro-regulation. However, we believe that the regulation must be factual and represent the science of the product, and their risks are also scientifically established.

“For cigarettes, we do concur that given their risk profile as a result of their combustible nature, graphic health warnings are appropriate for the category, and this has been the case for the last couple of years. However, when we look at what we are calling novel nicotine products, scientifically, these have been proven to be reduced-risk products for consumers. As such, we believe that graphic health warnings are not appropriate as this treats them the same as higher-risk products such as cigarettes.

“We urge the regulator, specifically, the Ministry of Health, that text health warnings, which has been the case, be maintained for novel nicotine products.”

Achola further urged the Ministry of Health to consider the feedback submitted at the ongoing public participation exercises, to ensure appropriate representation of the stakeholders.

The public participation engagements on the proposed health warnings commenced on Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Kisumu and Nyeri, followed by submission in Kakamega and Embu on Friday. The engagements now move to Mombasa and Eldoret on Monday, May 6, 2024, before concluding in Machakos on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.

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