National Assembly Finance and Planning Committee has been asked to either uphold or increase the proposed taxes on nicotine and cigarettes.
The National Assembly Finance and Planning Committee has been carrying out public hearings on the Finance Bill 2022 and table its recommendations this week.
Members of the National Assembly will then debate the recommendations and adopt or make adjustments where necessary before they vote for the Bill to become law by end of this month.
The Tobacco Control Board and health promotion advocates in Kenya asked the committee and other members of the National Assembly to vote for higher taxes on nicotine and cigarettes to stop a growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases caused by the widespread problem of nicotine addiction in Kenya.
Health experts have submitted their recommendations to the Gladys Wanga committee.
Last month, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani proposed to change the taxation regime for liquid nicotine from the current (zero) shillings per unit to an excise duty of Ksh.70 per millilitre. The Finance Bill also proposes an increase in prices for cigarettes with filters from Ksh 3,447.61 per mille (one thousand sticks) to Ksh 3,825.99 per mille and an increase in prices for cigarettes without filters (plain cigarettes) from Ksh 2,502.74 per mille to Ksh 2,752.97 per mille.
Dr Catherine Karekezi the Executive Director at Non-communicable Diseases Alliance Kenya, said the organisation supports increased taxes on nicotine and nicotine products. “We support the increase in taxes on nicotine and tobacco products. The use of tobacco is a primary risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic lung disease, and mental health disorders. We support the increase of taxes on these products and ask that these funds are channelled to healthcare. We’re having to pay more for the increased burden of cardiovascular diseases and other NCDs in Kenya.”
“Even though the government is looking at increasing revenue, when you consider the adverse health effect and how much these products are costing us, then they should be taxed more and the funds should go to health care,” she said.
Dr Karekezi added, “Nicotine is the main thing that makes cigarettes addictive. If used as manufacturers advise, cigarettes will always harm health and cause death. We also need to remember that smoking tobacco harms not just the user but also those exposed to the smoke. Second hand smoke which is even more dangerous to health.”
Kenya is a signatory to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s only health treaty, which calls for regular tax increases to fight tobacco and related products. Nancy Gachoka, the chairperson (acting) of the Tobacco Control Board said nicotine products are not only addictive but also toxic.
“Cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products contain many dangerous toxins. We cannot allow our young people to spend the rest of their lives chained to nicotine addiction. Nicotine itself is dangerous and highly addictive,” Gachoka said.
Dr Nyambura Salome, a social scientist and lecturer at Kenyatta University, noted that the use of tobacco and nicotine products such as pouches and e-cigarettes has been confirmed as an entry point to other drugs such as bhang and heroin and nicotine.
“The nicotine pouches are nine times more potent than cigarettes. Their nicotine concentration is unbelievably high. One girl we interviewed said she didn’t know the pouches contain nicotine when she used them. Then immediately she felt sick with nausea and felt like throwing up. Yet the pouches are packaged very beautifully. This is because the industry has not yet complied with directives by the Ministry of Health to put pictorial warnings showing these products are harmful and can cause death,” Dr Nyambura said.
National Chairman of the Tobacco and Health Promotion Alliance, Joel Gitali, said MPs must ignore disinformation peddled by BAT-Kenya Managing Director Chrispin Achola when he appeared before the Wanga-led committee on Wednesday.
Achola said that the tax is unnecessary because BAT’s nicotine pouches, called Velo (previously Lyft) were banned in 2021. This was because they were illegally registered as medicine by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
“Parliament should even increase the amount and come up with more measures. It should not try to please the tobacco industry. If it wants to make any changes, it must consult the Ministry of Health. These dangerous nicotine products are accessible to minors which means the rate at which young people are recruited into drugs abuse is high. It is our belief this budget will reduce the harmful consumption of these products,” Gitali said.
National Coordinator of the Tobacco and Health Promotion Alliance, Mr Thomas Lindi, said the tobacco industry is already funding some activists to perpetuate the harm reduction narrative, by promoting some dangerous products as “less-harmful”.
The International Institute for Legislative Affairs also supports an increase in taxes on nicotine and conventional cigarettes as well.
IILA is a Nairobi-based non-profit that works closely with policy making institutions, government, Members of Parliament and other stakeholders to draft and advocate for pro-people policies and legislation.