By Mike Mwaniki
The new Tobacco Control Board, inaugurated into office in May, has been challenged to re-examine the policy framework on tobacco control in the country.
Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki has urged the new board to formulate timely policies on the production, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion, sponsorship and use of tobacco and tobacco products.
This, she said has to be done in line with the Tobacco Control Act at a time when the world is focused on controlling Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
“This include permissible levels of the constituents of tobacco products or their emissions; standardisation of ingredients of tobacco products required to be prohibited under the section and regular testing for conformity with the requirements; standards in labelling, packaging, sale and distribution of tobacco products.”
Speaking during the inauguration ceremony, Mrs Kariuki warned that tobacco harms the health and economy of the country.
Despite the deaths and high economic cost due to the harmful habit– Kenya, the Cabinet Secretary asserted– has witnessed very marginal decline in the use of manufactured cigarettes and cigars, hand-rolled cigarettes, pipes, shisha, snuff, chewed tobacco and kuber.
“The decline occurred marginally from nine per cent in 2012 to eight per cent in 2019. This means that about 2.2 million Kenyans use tobacco products out of which two-thirds smoke cigarettes.”
Last year, Kenya joined regional countries in banning the sale of shisha locally.
Former Health Ministry Cabinet Secretary, Dr Cleopa Mailu made the announcement in a special edition of the Kenya Gazette dated December 28.
The ban by Dr Mailu was immediately welcomed by those involved in the fight against the harmful use of tobacco in Kenya but those involved in trading in the multi-million shillings vice opposed the move and rushed to court a day after the announcement.
According to the Global Youth Survey of 2014 in Kenya, 1.5 million youth and 2.5 million adults smoke shisha, cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that tobacco use (smoking and smokeless) is currently responsible for the death of about six million people across the world each year with many of these deaths occurring prematurely.
At the same time, the Kenya STEPwise survey for NCDs risk factors (2015) says the country is experiencing an epidemiological transition in its diseases burden from infectious to non-communicable conditions, resulting in a double burden of disease.
“NCDs are a major public health concern with significant social and economic implications in terms of health care-needs, lost productivity and premature death.”
“NCDs, are therefore, a serious setback to our attainment of social, health and economic targets if no proper interventions are put in place,” the report says.
While inaugurating the new Board, Mrs Kariuki reminded the members that the task ahead was “enormous” especially due to the increased burden posed by NCDs as the country embarks on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) attainment.
According to experts, achieving UHC means access to essential health services for everyone—including safe, effective and affordable medicines and vaccines—without financial hardship.