NAIROBI, July 8 – Kenya effected a nationwide smoking ban Tuesday, which among others outlaws any form of advertising of tobacco products and prohibits smoking in public places.
The Tobacco Control Act made it illegal to smoke in public places ranging from disco halls, cinemas, offices, hospitals, factories, bars and eateries to shopping malls, public transport and residential houses.
Owners of such places should designate a smoking zone that must be well ventilated and separated from the public area, the new law stipulates.
"Let us all accept that a majority of Kenyans are non smokers and a few smokers are endangering the lives of those majority Kenyans," said Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo.
It is estimated that more than five million Kenyans (about 16 percent of the population) smoke.
Mugo also said it would be a crime to smoke in houses.
"But because we cannot get there to enforce it, we hope that the parents who smoke will be responsible enough to go and smoke outside for the sake of their own children," she added.
According to the new legislation, cigarettes will not be sold to minors less than 18 years of age and neither will they be used to sell.
"Cigarettes will not be sold in single sticks because we believe that’s how the young people are getting access, they will be sold in packs of ten."
"But if ten people come up together and buy one packet and share, that is within the law, we can’t do anything about it," added Permanent Secretary Dr James Nyikal.
Advertising of tobacco products in any medium has also been prohibited under the Act.
"We want to protect the young people because advertising is targeting them and that is not desirable. To us the advertisements look like recruitment," said the PS.
The public has also been urged to refrain from using items which are printed with logos of cigarettes, be it umbrellas, caps or t-shirts.
With the enforcement of the Act, use of words like ‘mild’ ‘sweet’ or ‘low tar’ which the Ministry says creates a false impression of the health or social effects of smoking is also illegal.
The new law further forbids promotion of tobacco products by sponsorship of either sports, cultural, educational or entertainment activities and branding of buildings other than those owned or leased by manufacturers.
"Some people may call it Corporate Social Responsibility but what is social responsibility if the product that is coming through is harmful?" Dr Nyikal questioned.
He said with the enforcement of the Act by public health officers and the police, they hope to reduce the number of smokers in the country.
The ministry said it would also carry out countrywide education campaigns to ensure people adhered to the act.
A statement issued earlier by the Permanent Secretary stated that the Director of Medical Services who is under the ministry of Medical Services may appoint any person or class of persons to be authorized enforcement officers.
"Within this week there will be a gazette notice of the board members that will operate the Act," Dr Nyikal said.
"The main objective is to protect people’s health- the smoker as well as people who live around the smoker, that’s why you are seeing some of the stringent bits of the Act."
Manufacturers would also be required to disclose the content and quantities of tobacco in their products.
Any offence relating to the Act will attract a fine of between Sh50, 000 and Sh3 million, or up to three years in prison.
The enactment of the Act was preceded by by-laws similar to the ban in the towns of Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa. The councils have already designated smoking areas on city streets.
The High Court suspended a similar ban ordered by the Health Ministry in 2006 after it was challenged by British American Tobacco Company and Mastermind International.
The two companies estimated that they would lose more than Sh60 million each if the legislation was enforced.
Also concerned were some 300,000 tobacco farmers, who feared a reduction in their income.
It is estimated that 12,000 Kenyans die annually from smoking-related ailments.