NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 25 – The war between the tobacco industry and various social organisations has gone a notch higher with lawyers allied to the African Tobacco Alliance and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids calling on the government to tighten its control legislations, to reduce the number of smokers in the country.
Chairperson of the Africa Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) Rachel Kittonyo said on Saturday that more than 18.2 percent of boys and girls in Kenya aged between 13 and 15 were currently smoking.
“These are very worrying figures because in 2001 the figure was at 11 percent. This means that in a span of seven years the figure has almost doubled. If we do not do anything about it then in the next seven years, the figures will have shot up even higher,” she stated.
Pamela Lambert, an official of Tobacco Free Kids, held that a concerted educational effort on the harmful effects of tobacco between the Kenyan government and citizens would reduce the number of smokers, noting that education had seen the number of smokers in developed nations go down.
“If you look at the so called developed world you will see that statistics for tobacco use are coming down. The industry is now targeting Africa as a replacement market. Therefore governments and civil societies should assist in making people aware of how dangerous smoking is,” she explained.
Ms Lambert said that women were more susceptible (compared to men) to tobacco related illnesses and added that they should be discouraged from taking up the habit.
“The likelihood of getting cervical and breast cancer increases significantly with tobacco use. We should therefore make policies that will especially discourage women from engaging in the habit and gradually bring down the tremendous deaths and diseases caused by tobacco,” she observed.
The official observed that there would be a fundamental conflict of interests when the government decided to protect the health of its citizens while the tobacco industry is out to make a profit.
“The tobacco industry exists to make money of a product that causes addiction, death and disease, but when the government formulates governing laws for this industry to protect the lives of its citizens the tobacco industry challenges them,” she said.
Ms Lambert also took issue with the industry saying it had no viable grounds for challenging laws formulated to control its products, arguing that they were causing deaths.
“They should stop accusing the government of putting limits on their business. We hope that when the time comes for any court to decide what is important between the right to somebody’s life and the right of a company to put five or ten cigarettes in a packet so as to make a profit; that the court in its wisdom will choose the people’s health and well being,” held Ms Lambert.
Ms Kittonyo revealed that ATCA was working with the government to train enforcement officers whose work was to ensure that smokers only did so in designated areas.
“So far we have trained 660 officers in ten towns including Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret and Kakamega on how to enforce the Tobacco Control Act. But we are still having talks with the City Council in Nairobi to ensure that they enforce the smoking in public ban,” she noted.
They were speaking during a tobacco control legal workshop in Nairobi.