Activists campaigning against alternative nicotine products in Kenya are playing a dangerous game of disinformation.
They have been circulating scare stories recently in an effort to deny smokers access to reduced-risk tobacco-free products such as oral nicotine patches and vapes.
But they have blatantly ignored the sensational news coming out of Sweden that details how these products are actually saving millions of lives and significantly reducing the public health burden.
On March 14, international experts attending a conference in Stockholm formally announced that Sweden is set to become the first nation in the world to officially give up cigarettes.
Swedish policymakers have achieved this remarkable feat by embracing tobacco harm reduction (THR) strategies, including providing smokers affordable access to alternative nicotine products. These include oral snus, oral nicotine-containing products, and vapes.
This historic success has laid out a policy roadmap which, if followed by other nations, could save up to 3.5 million lives in Europe alone over the next 10 years. However, Kenyan activists opposed to THR are trying to push our policymakers in the opposite direction.
And it is no surprise that they have chosen to ignore the Swedish experience, which defies their dogma but is achieving the very results they say they aspire to.
Fifty years ago, 49 per cent of Swedish men were smoking regularly. In the last decade, smoking rates in Sweden halved and reached a record low of 5.6 per cent in 2022.
Soon, that figure will fall below 5 per cent, the level at which a country is considered ‘smoke-free’ under internationally recognised guidelines, Sweden’s pragmatic and enlightened approach has delivered extraordinary public health gains.
Compared to the rest of Europe, Sweden has 44 per cent fewer tobacco-related deaths, a cancer rate that is 41 per cent lower, and 38 per cent fewer deaths attributable to any cancer.
Here in Kenya, we are on course to miss our Health Ministry’s target of 9.7 per cent smoking prevalence by 2025.
But still, anti-tobacco activists lobby Parliament to treat tobacco and nicotine as one and the same and continue to call for a total ban on less risky products such as nicotine pouches.
This ‘quit or die’ approach to tobacco control ignores the fact that alternative nicotine products are much safer than traditional tobacco products.
Global research shows that tobacco-free nicotine products are about 95% less harmful than cigarettes.
For this reason, alternative products ought to be regulated uniquely within a framework that recognises their potential to reduce the health burden associated with traditional tobacco products.
The 'Swedish Model' is an example of THR being used to drive down smoking rates and dramatically reduce smoking-related diseases.
And it shows our policymakers that they should not allow a campaign of disinformation to deprive Kenyan smokers of a chance to embrace the evidence and champion the potential of alternative nicotine products for the betterment of our society at large
The writer is the chairman of Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA)