Kenya’s obstructive stance on innovative tobacco-free oral nicotine products (ONDS) is denying thousands of smokers desperate to quit cigarettes an extraordinary opportunity to have informed choices and save lives.
That’s according to international medical experts who addressed the Africa Tobacco Harm Reduction Forum hosted by the Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA).
“By lagging behind the rest of the world in its stance on tobacco harm reduction (THR), the Kenyan
government is blocking the escape from tobacco-related disease and death for 30,000 smokers a year, with no chance of reprieve,” CASA Chairman Joseph Magero told the webinar.
“Kenya’s ongoing ‘quit or die’ tobacco control policy ignores the reality that too many smokers find it impossible to quit, even when they want to. Reduced harm products such as e-cigarettes and oral nicotine pouches give them a much safer alternative, a route away from cigarettes and a better chance of a smoke-free future.”
Africa has over 77 million cigarette smokers, with over 250,000 Africans dying each year from smoking-related complications.
In Kenya, an estimated 30,000 people die every year from smoking-related illness. One in three Kenyan smokers wants to quit, but just seven percent succeed.
In October 2020, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe declared the registration of nicotine pouches popularly known as LYFT illegal.
Nicotine pouches are marketed as a safer alternative for smoking addicts who want to quit the habit but are addicted.
According to an IPSOS study on the behaviour of oral nicotine users in Kenya, smokers trying to quit smoking welcomed oral nicotine products as ‘an ideal substitute’ for combustible cigarettes.
However, the study reveals that when nicotine pouches were banned, users reverted to cigarette smoking.
Physician Dr Delon Human, CEO of the Africa Harm Reduction Alliance (AHRA), described oral nicotine as one of the biggest lifesavers in harm reduction.
“Compared to cigarettes, oral nicotine has shown its capacity to help millions of adult smokers switch from dangerous cigarettes to lower-risk products. In Africa and worldwide, it has enormous potential to prevent tobacco-related disease and premature death,” said Dr Human.
Dr Human cited the example of Sweden, where nicotine pouches (snus) use has been steadily displacing smoking.
In Sweden, adult daily smoking prevalence has already fallen to five percent as compared to an average of 26 percent in the European Union (EU).
“Nicotine pouches have saved millions of lives in Sweden. They can achieve the same in Kenya and elsewhere, for the 1.3 billion smokers in the world,” he noted.
Dr Karl Fagerström PhD and Clinical Psychologist (Sweden) added that as a healthcare scientist, he would “like to see adult users of risky tobacco products have credible, viable and safer alternatives to their current addiction”.
Oral nicotine is a smokeless, tobacco-free version of a Swedish product called snus. Resembling a teabag, each small, moist nicotine pouch contains pharmaceutical grade nicotine, food-grade fillers, salt, water and different flavours. It involves no burning, vapour or any tobacco.
The pouch is placed between the gums and lip, where the moisture of the mouth releases the nicotine.
“No nicotine product is risk-free; even medicinal nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has certain risks. Consumers deserve fair, proportionate and risk-based regulations so they can make the most responsible and informed choices for their health,” added Dr Human.
The experts expressed concern at the high level of taxes levied on alternative nicotine products in
Kenya, in particular, the government’s plan to increase tax on nicotine pouches, making them twice as expensive as cigarettes.
According to AHRA president Dr Kgosi Letlape, if governments wanted smokers to quit cigarettes, they needed to give them affordable and accessible alternatives.
“Smoke-free oral nicotine products offer a simple, safer simple, tobacco-free substitute for combustible tobacco,” said Dr Letlape.
“This policy will simply keep consumers smoking and probably please cigarette manufacturers. It makes no sense economically; nicotine pouches are effective, cost government nothing and will help reduce the disease burden from smoking.”