About 10 million Kenyans are addicted to tobacco products, according to data from the Ministry of Health, with about 14 per cent of Kenyans being regular smokers.
That is a high number considering smoking causes premature deaths to half of the addicts before they reach 60 years.
To curb the fatalities governments around the world introduced tough laws and regulations against tobacco use, including strongly worded messages and bigger images on cigarette packets on attendant health risks.
Tobacco manufacturers were also banned from advertising, promotional and sponsorship of social activities.
The myriad reasons for tough laws against tobacco are that, one, smoking harms almost all organs in the body and more worrying is that the biggest bunch of converts to tobacco use in Kenya are school leavers, college students and young adults, according to Dr Evans Amukoye, the Director of Respiratory Diseases and Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).
“Many cases of lung impairment, most forms of cancers are caused by cigarette smoking,” says Dr Amukoye listing heart attacks, hypertension, high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, bronchitis, asthma and even infertility as the other health risks.
Dr Amukoye cites peer pressure and addictions as the biggest influencers of tobacco use among youth despite the ban on cigarette advertising since 2005 when the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO- FCTC) came into force.
The treaty gave countries more tools to help control tobacco consumption and save lives considering tobacco or smoking is one of the leading killers globally, according to Dr Vera Luisa da Costa Silva, the Director of Tobacco Free Institute at WHO.
Little has changed even as the world marked this year’s World Tobacco Day. Besides being a leading killer, smoking also affects a user’s nutritional intake.
“The nicotine in cigarettes suppresses one’s ability to taste flavours due to its action on the brain,” says Grace Chege, a nutritionist.
She explains that the reduced enjoyment of food from smoking affects appetite, leading to low dietary intake which affects nutrition.
Advocates for tobacco cite the huge taxes and employment of hundreds of thousands created by the industry.
Charles Kioko, who works for one of the local tobacco firms, says countries which grow tobacco without interference have a higher GDP from the cash crop from export revenues
Kioko cited India which exports 98 per cent of its tobacco production while in Kenya it accounts for 30 per cent of total exports and nearly 10 per cent of GDP.
“Kenya is a country of considerable strategic importance to tobacco manufacturing and operations in Africa due to its influence in the region and outstanding political links with the tobacco industry.”
But the dangers of tobacco outweigh the good, according to lawyer Charles Odhiambo Ayoro who argues that smallholder farmers mostly in Nyanza and Western provinces operate on net financial losses besides risking damage to their health.