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Kenya must step up bid to help smokers quit the killer habit

OPINION
By Okanga Nashon | October 17th 2021
Man smoking a cigarette [Courtesy]

Nine in ten of Kenya’s 2.5 million smokers regret having taken up the habit, according to a report by the International Tobacco Control (ITC) in May.

Yet it seems necessary support frameworks for smokers are insufficient or non-existent, with little effort made by relevant government bodies to help them quit.  

The Ministry of Health says smoking is a major cause of preventable deaths. The report also found that 89 per cent of tobacco users think the government should do more to tackle the harm.

Recently, one of the world’s foremost medical publications, Cochrane, published a systematic review of smoking cessation support. They found that just four out of 100 smokers who quit without any support, succeed, with the odds of success dramatically increasing for those who use alternative nicotine products like patches, sprays or e-cigarettes.

Last month, a report published by the Property Rights Alliance on international best practices for smoking cessation found that smoking rates in France, UK, New Zealand and Canada dropped twice as the rate of the global average due to their harm reduction approach.

Harm reduction policies recognise that people smoke for the nicotine, but they are at risk of health complications due to the tar in tobacco smoke. Nicotine pouches, gums, lozenges and vapes are harm reduction products that allow smokers to continue using nicotine without exposing them to cancer-causing chemicals.

Laboratory studies have shown that exposure to carcinogens and other toxicants present in cigarette smoke is greatly reduced in smokers who switch completely to harm reduction products. But Kenya seems to be moving in the opposite direction and is slapping massive taxes on vapes which puts them out of reach of majority of smokers and shifting positions on nicotine pouches. Some activists are going as far as calling for an outright ban and propagating misinformation on the risks of the products.

Kenya is in a unique position whereby the number of smoking-related deaths is likely to increase due to population growth. Ignoring science on the best ways to reduce smoking-related deaths is not only a missed opportunity to save lives, but is the abandonment of every smoker trying to save themselves.

-Dr Okanga is a physician and a lecturer. 

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