Report calls out tobacco industry for interference

Thomas Marwa a tobacco farmer inspects his drying tobacco leaves in one of his kilns at his Kugitimo home, Kuria East, Migori County on 18/1/2020. [Sammy Omingo/Standard] 

A new report accuses the tobacco industry of perpetual meddling in tobacco control efforts.

The report by Consumer Information Network (CIN) lists seven ways in which it accuses the industry of interference.

Among the ways include the industry’s involvement in policy development, corporate social responsibility, tax regime, unnecessary interaction, lack of transparency and conflict of interest.

While releasing the report dubbed 2020 Tobacco Industry Interference Index, Samuel Ochieng, the CEO of CIN,  the information is still scanty even though  considerable effort has been made to include all publicly available information on tobacco industry interactions with public officers and authorities.

“You will also notice that despite the ruling by the Supreme Court of Kenya in November 2019 against the petition by British American Tobacco (BAT) Kenya that then paved way for full implementation of the Tobacco Control Regulations 2014 which, among other things, provides for the domestication and implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3 Guidelines, a number of public officers and authorities still violate the regulations in their interaction with tobacco industry,” said Ochieng.

He also pointed out that that a number of provisions of the Tobacco Control Act 2007 including those on Tobacco Advertisement Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS) have been violated by the tobacco industry and public officers especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ochieng stated, “The donation of Sh10.6 million into the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, the acceptance of the donation and the reciprocation by the Government by listing tobacco products as part of the essential products to be granted exemptions in the COVID-19 containment measures is an example of the consequences of the government accepting donations from the industry.”

The report pointed out that according to the Tobacco Control Regulations 2014 prohibit the government from accepting support, or endorsing any offer of assistance or collaboration with the tobacco industry in setting or implementing public health policies in relation to tobacco control.

The report also lashed out at the government for listing tobacco as essential products. It also took issue with an event in 2019 where BAT was awarded the Solid Rock Commendation (Lifetime Achievement) for Exporter of the Year Award through a project of Kenya Export Promotion Council (EPC) which is a state agency. Deputy President Dr William Ruto attended the event alongside some Cabinet Secretaries and other government officials.

Speaking during the launch, Joel Gitali, chair of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA) said that the delay by government in setting up the tobacco control fund was one of the ways in which the interference was being subtly done.

“We call upon the government to set up the fund so that it can offer reparations to some of the damages that have been pushed by consumption of tobacco products,” he said.

Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of death globally, accounting directly for over 8 million deaths annually and approximately four per cent of total disease burden worldwide, behind only childhood underweight, unsafe sex and blood pressure.

Projections show that by 2030, tobacco use will produce the highest burden of premature mortality and disability in the world compared to other health risk factors with low and medium income countries being more affected by this burden than high income countries.

In Kenya, every year, more than 8,000 people die of tobacco related diseases, while more than 220,000 children and more than 2.7 million adults continue to use tobacco each day. Additionally, 79 men and 37 women are killed each week as a result of tobacco use.

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