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BAT watches as Ministry, Board resolve Lyft's registration

By Jeckonia Otieno | October 8th 2020
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe (PHOTO: File)

NAIROBI, KENYA: The British American Tobacco (BAT), the firm at the center of the controversial nicotine pouches will not comment at the moment on a letter between the ministry of health and Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) over the registration of the product in Kenya.

Caroline Mavuti from the BAT Communications department said the Ministry of Health and PPB were in a better position to comment on the matter threatening to stop the sale of BAT's popular product Lyft.

“The Ministry and Poisons Board are in a better position to comment on the letter doing rounds on the social media,” she said in a phone call.

In a letter to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), Health CS Mutahi Kagwe sought answers as to how the controversial nicotine pouches manufactured by BAT were registered.

“The Ministry has noted with concern that licensing of nicotine pouches, sold under the brand name “LYFT”, by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board was done contrary to the provisions of Section 25 of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act CAP 244,” noted Kagwe in a letter addressed to PPB CEO Dr Fred Siyoi.

The CS also pointed out that the product does not meet the threshold to be registered under the category in which PPB put it.

He stated, “The nicotine pouches neither meet the descriptions of ‘Part I poison’ nor ‘Part II poison’ as prescribed in the Act. Further, how the product is sold to the public does not meet the provisions of Section 23 of CAP 244 as required.”

The act stipulates that Part I of the list shall consist of poisons that are not to be sold except by authorized sellers of poisons and by licensed wholesale dealers and dealers in mining, agricultural or horticultural accessories.

The battle over LYFT has raged for some time with tobacco control lobby groups led by the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA) arguing that it is not a safe form of tobacco as the industry seeks to market it. The groups warn that the use of these nicotine products could lead to addiction which in turn will drive more people into smoking cigarettes for nicotine.

Late last week, four lobby groups including KETCA, International Institute for Legislative Affairs (IILA), Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations (KENCO), and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) Alliance opposed a request by the BAT Kenya for a three-year tax holiday on the pouches.

BAT Kenya has put a spirited fight for the product which is fast gaining currency among the younger population. On January 24, 2019, it sent a letter to partners stating LYFT is permitted in Kenya.

The letter signed by BAT’s National Sales Manager, Loius Kamau stated, “We wish to confirm that the LYFT product is legally permitted to be sold in the Kenyan market. The product is licensed by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) who is the primary regulator responsible for the evaluation, licensing, and approval for the sale of LYFT in Kenya.”

Among the regulators' BAT listed as having engaged include the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), which it stated had confirmed that since the product had been approved by PPB, it did not require the KEBS Standardisation Mark.

On September 28, BAT Kenya wrote to CS Kagwe clarifying about the pouches and requested a meeting with him to appraise him on the product.

“We kindly request an urgent meeting with you from the week of 28th September 2020 to enable us to provide comprehensive information about LYFT, its science and the additional steps that we are taking to ensure that the product is not sold to under 18s,” noted the letter signed by Managing Director Beverly Spencer-Obatoyinbo, and copied to CS Industry and Trade, Betty Maina, and Health PS Susan Mochache.

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