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Africa missing out as world debates future of e-cigarettes

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Dominic Omondi | October 1st 2019

Last week, as the world immersed itself in a heated debated on the less harmful alternative to cigarettes, Africa was conspicuously missing.

For three days in Washington DC, from September 27 to 29, stakeholders from tobacco firms, health professionals and legal experts, tried to find a middle ground on weaning off smokers from harmful tobacco products.

The Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum was held on the backdrop of an impending ban on vaping - the inhaling of a vapour created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device- by the US Government, citing negative health effects on young people.

Critics to the ban insisted that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is jumping the gun by resorting to the ban without conclusive studies. They said that banning e-cigarettes while maintaining traditional cigarettes was not helping smokers to quit.

There have been concerns that, rather than just being a safe-boat for smokers, youth who had never smoked have been initiated into the habit of vaping which has appeared ‘cool.’

In his keynote speech at the forum, president of External Affairs and General Counsel for Philip Morris International, Marc Firestone, said tobacco control must be informed by the need to deter initiation while encouraging cessation.

Replacement therapy

Mr Firestone noted that annual cessation rates globally are under 10 per cent. This means nine out of 10 men and women already smoking are going to continue smoking, he said.

“And that is the proposition that crystalises the need to provide people who are already smoking, and who are otherwise going to continue, access to information about better products,” said Firestone. He observed that the US Government had so far given them the green light to come up with less harmful products in the interest of those already smoking.

FDA Director Mitch Zeller said the agency was keen on attaining an environment where cigarettes will not create sustained addiction, even as adults who still seek nicotine get it from alternative and less harmful sources.

“Even at this acute moment in time, as we are dealing with vaping illnesses; as we are dealing with the epidemic use of e-cigarettes by kids in the US, it is still an opportunity to pause and acknowledge that the continual exists,” said Zeller. “That there are more and less harmful ways to get nicotine into the body, with combustible cigarettes being at one end of the spectrum and nicotine replacement therapy, medicinal nicotine products, being at end of the products being the least harmful.”

But even as the debate raged on, smokers in Africa featured less as vaping is considered an ‘expensive’ habit on the continent. E-cigarettes would probably take even longer to catch on.

In Kenya, only the British American Tobacco (BAT) has announced plans to join the tobacco and nicotine-based alternatives.

BAT and Philip Morris were the first of the big tobacco firms to invest in cigarette alternatives as growing health consciousness reduces traditional smoking. Market research group Euromonitor estimates that the number of adults who vape will reach 55 million by 2021.

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