Review of the Impact of Tobacco Advocacy in Kenya

On the 20th of April 2023, the International Institute for Legislative Affairs hosted yet another workshop on Tobacco Tax. This session which brought together journalists and NCDs advocates aimed to provide further insight into Tobacco tax as a crucial public health measure, as outlined in Article 6 of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) and Section 12 of the Tobacco Control Act (2007). According to the WHO, tobacco use kills eight million people every year and is the leading cause of preventable deaths globally (deaths attributable to chronic diseases).  Tobacco use is one of the risk factors for non-communicable diseases. Raising taxes on tobacco products, which leads to increases in their price, makes tobacco less affordable. When tobacco becomes less affordable people use it less and youth initiation is prevented.

The sessions were stimulating and illuminating as they were dominated with conversations on the impact of tobacco tax policies and strategies adopted by the tobacco industry in furtherance of their arguments against tobacco tax policies. Some of these strategies include;

  • Using front groups and third parties to represent its interests and do their bidding.
  • Creating media content to oppose taxes making flimsy economic arguments.
  • Using flawed arguments including that there is no evidence that higher taxes will lead to less consumption or that higher taxes will make people avoid tobacco products hence the loss of countries Gross Domestic Income.
  • Bribing journalists to create contents that seem to oppose the tobacco tax policies.

The workshop also highlighted the Cigarette tax scorecard focusing on the four dimensions of the cigarette tax system i.e.

  • Cigarette prices.
  • Changes in cigarette affordability over time.
  • Share of taxes in retail cigarette prices.
  • Cigarette tax structure.

During his presentation, Peter Omari Magati, from Tobacconomics noted that Kenya has not performed so well in regard to the above dimensions of the cigarette tax scorecard. He presented data from WHO’s biennial reports on the global tobacco epidemic with scores for 2018, 2016, and 2014. I was perplexed, to be honest, to learn that over these periods, Kenya experienced small, insignificant changes during this time across all metrics despite the concerted effort that has been put toward tobacco cessation.

The sessions discussed and debated the effectiveness of tobacco tax policies. While we agreed that significantly increasing tobacco excise taxes and prices is the single most effective and cost-effective measure for reducing tobacco use, we noted that administering these policies is what counts. Tobacco/NCD advocates must therefore step up their advocacy and pile pressure on the government to enforce these policies. Equally, the tobacco industry’s flawed arguments against tobacco tax policies must be thwarted to protect and save lives. Public health arguments must reign supreme when juxtaposed with economic arguments.

Published by Oduor Kevin

ODUOR KEVIN is a Public Health Specialist with considerable experience in the health care industry. He has worked in various organizations, leading projects and programs aimed at improving the health outcomes of people living with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and the general population. Oduor Kevin is currently the Chief Programs Officer at Stowelink Inc, a youth-led organization with a single most focus on addressing the burden of NCDs. Oduor’s experience in project management is attributed to his work at Population Services Kenya (PSK) where he served as a member of the National Coordinating Committee for Kitu Ni Kukachora project. Further, in 2019, Oduor Kevin was appointed as Kenyatta University Campus Director by Millenium Campus Network (MCN) to supervise and lead Millennium Fellows in their Social Impact projects. During this assignment, he successfully supervised the fellows and delivered them for graduation under the banner of Millennium Fellowship.

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