Tobacco companies have been accused of evading restrictions to market cigarettes to young people, in the process threatening the global progress made in the fight against tobacco use.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says promotion of products such as e- cigarettes, heated cigarettes including nicotine pouches and snus, which are claimed to be healthy, are increasingly becoming a complex threat to countries around the world.
Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA) is now calling on the government not to license products set to be released by the British American Tobacco (BAT) into the market.
Last week, BAT announced that it will introduce tobacco-free nicotine pouches aimed at reducing the risks associated with passive smoking.
Nicotine pouch is a non-tobacco, whitish product that users place under their lip and the nicotine is then absorbed through their gum.
However, according to KETCA, the products have not been endorsed by WHO, especially for smoking cessation, while arguing that these products should be subject to policies that have been proven effective in reducing tobacco use.
Speaking on Monday at a press briefing, KETCA chairman Joel Gitali said the products being introduced and which are being presented as alternatives are, however, complementary to the use of conventional tobacco products.
“The possibility of tobacco industry interference in tobacco cessation efforts through misinformation about the potential benefits of these products is a real threat,” he said.
He urged the government to ensure the right measures are in place to curb these products which he noted might even influence the youth into partaking them.
“Introducing these products in the market should be a real concern on the risk they pose to non-smokers who start to use them, especially the young people,” Gitali added.
KETCA National Coordinator Thomas Lindi said despite Kenya and the world struggling to control the burden of cancers and the growing burden of Non Communicable Diseases (NDCs), BAT claims that the nicotine pouch has reduced risks compared to cigarettes. But it has not publicly produced adequate data to show that the new products are a less risky alternative.
“Why should Kenyans be subjected to harmful products merely because they are less harmful? The possibility of tobacco industry interference in tobacco cessation efforts and their misinformation about the benefits of the products should be a concern,” reiterated Lindi.
He explained that esophageal cancer kills nearly everyone who contracts it in Kenya and cigarette smoking is an important risk factor for this type of cancer.
“Even with the decline of tobacco products from nine percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2017, there are still about 2.2 million Kenyans still using tobacco products,” he said.
Lindi noted that unlike the tried and tested nicotine and non-nicotine pharmacotherapies that are known to help people quit tobacco use, WHO does not endorse the e-cigarettes as cessation aids.
Emma Wanyonyi, CEO of the Institute for Legislative Affairs said that the planned launch of smoke-free cigarettes and nicotine delivery products by the tobacco industry in Kenya such as the snus, another smokeless, nicotine delivery product that contains higher amounts of arsenic, cadmium and nicotine found in some of BAT’s smokeless products and found by the US food and Drugs administration to have extremely harmful chemicals, should be worrying considering the exposure to carcinogens and other toxicants may increase the risk for cancer, heart disease and reproductive effects.
“The products that BAT wants to introduce have nicotine and no studies have been done to show us otherwise,” she said, noting that most Kenyans are struggling with cigarette smoking and now with the introduction of the e-cigarettes, it will be a gateway for even hard drugs.