Push to raise tax on tobacco items as youth hooked on e-cigarettes

Interestingly, of the respondents, 66 per cent have a bachelor's degree and 54 per cent have high gross income while 71 per cent live in large cities and aspire to be successful. The reason why the e-cigarettes might be popular is they appear safe and trendy and a cool source of comfort from pressures of life.

Why trend is a concern

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes usually create a narrative that they are a safe alternative to smoking regular cigarettes, but new evidence shows that is a dangerous truth.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that electronic cigarettes are the most common form of electronic nicotine delivery systems (Ends) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (Ennds) but there are others, such as e-cigars and e-pipes. WHO says Ends and Ennds contain varying amounts of nicotine and harmful emissions.

The global health body says e-cigarette emissions typically contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users, and non-users exposed to the aerosols second-hand.

WHO stresses that consumption of nicotine in children and adolescents has deleterious impacts on brain development, leading to long-term consequences for brain development and potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders.

High tax, low consumption

Based on that strong evidence of the health risks of e-cigarettes, the civil society is now pushing for heavy taxation to discourage its usage. National Taxpayers Association (NTA) in partnership with Tax Justice Network Africa, a pan-African research and advocacy organisation, are implementing a project on Tobacco Tax Advocacy in Africa.

The goal of the project is to discourage the use of tobacco and its products which are known to be harmful to households and economies.

Tobacco tax is a central factor in pricing and therefore, can be used to reduce tobacco affordability through price increase.

To control rising tobacco consumption in Kenya, NTA Chief Executive Officer Irene Otieno is calling for aggressive taxation on tobacco products.

"We are lobbying to have the tax on tobacco move to 70 per cent in line with global standards, but we have not achieved much traction yet. We are also pushing to have a unified tax system on tobacco products," she says.

Ms Otieno says another big bone of contention they have with government is the fact that Kenya Revenue Authority is rewarding the high tax payers like British American Tobacco for being among the highest tax payers but at the expense of consumer health.

"BAT might be bringing in the taxes but at what expense? Data in our possession shows that from every dollar in tax from tobacco products, you use four dollars to treat disease from those usage of those products," she pointed out.

A report by NTA, has identified tobacco taxation as one of the six core tobacco demand reduction measures and is recognised as the most effective control measure of reducing tobacco consumption by Article 6 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

"Kenya still applies a specific tiered excise tax on cigarettes, yet a uniform tax rate is generally accepted as the superior form of tax with respect to controlling consumption and maximizing revenues," says NTA.

NTA notes that the tiered system enhances affordability of cigarettes among the poor. It may thus lead to: relatively higher levels of consumption especially among the poor, increased initiation of cigarette use by the youth, increased loss of income due to tobacco attributable diseases; loss in productivity and increased poverty.

Another way forward that NTA is proposing to reduce tobacco use consumption is track and trace system to be expanded to cover e-cigarette products to minimise illicit trade.

There is also need to empower Kenya Revenue Authority to monitor online trade. It is important to tailor made messaging directed at middle-class to caution about the dangers of e-cigarette.

Most importantly, NTA says schools need to play a more active role in screening for the consumption of these products, because learners are the core target.