Tobacco Harm Reduction Experts Criticize Kenya’s Ban on Oral Nicotine Products

“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,” said CASA Chairman Joseph Magero during 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.”

Nicotine pouches are tea bag-like pouches which are placed under the upper lip for about 15 to 30 minutes depending on one’s preferred nicotine dose. While similar to snus, they have the added benefit of being tobacco-free, odour-free, unlike snuff they do not require spitting.

Nicotine pouches may be be less biologically active than cigarettes and snus

A 2020 (non-independent) study conducted by BAT, compared the tobacco company’s Velo nicotine pouches with a cigarette and a Swedish-style snus pouch. The nicotine pouches were found to be less biologically active than cigarette smoke and snus, even at greater concentrations of nicotine and across a range of tests. In fact, during many attempts Velo failed to elicit a biological response at all, which led the researchers to conclude that they are safer than traditional cigarettes and Swedish-style snus.

Also last year BAT announced it was launching a new plant at an estimated cost of Sh2.5 billion, to start the production of nicotine pouches in Kenya. The plan was to trade under the Lyft brand and target the African market.

However, the country’s Ministry of Health and civil society lobby groups, such as International Institute for Legislative Affairs, resisted the sales of the products, and announced a ban in October 2020.

Meanwhile, points out an article on Kahawatungu, Africa has over 77 million cigarette smokers, with over 250,000 dying each year from smoking-related conditions. In Kenya alone, it is estimated that about 30,000 people die yearly because of smoking.

Oral nicotine products are ‘an ideal substitute’ for cigarettes

In line with arguments by public health experts, an IPSOS study on the behaviour of oral nicotine users in Kenya, found that smokers trying to quit smoking welcomed oral nicotine products as ‘an ideal substitute’ for combustible cigarettes. Sadly, revealed the study, when nicotine pouches were banned, many users reverted back to smoking.

“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 Delon Human, CEO of the Africa Harm Reduction Alliance (AHRA).

BAT raises cigarette prices in Kenya

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