More than seven million people die globally from direct tobacco use annually. Another estimated 1.2 million non-smokers die as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke.
The use of tobacco has been identified as a key health risk factor shared by all the four leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs) namely cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.
As a response, the global community adopted the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005 “to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.”
One of the key components of the framework is the requirement to raise taxes on tobacco use. Although progress has been made in the more developed nations, African countries face a daunting task to reduce tobacco use. One thorny issue is the proliferation of new tobacco products designed to evade tobacco taxes and thus undermine the control of the use of tobacco.
Initially, these products included shisha and e-cigarettes. Some countries like Kenya have since moved to update their tax laws to apply specific taxes to these products.
Even as countries are playing catch-up, the tobacco industry has taken a step forward and is now introducing newer products in the market.
A recent example is the introduction of nicotine pouches in Africa, which is described as a smokeless tobacco product.
One common product is called LYFT, which is a nicotine pouch. LYFT was introduced in Kenya in the last quarter of 2019 and was registered in Kenya as a pharmaceutical drug and hence not subject to the excise tax that is normally imposed on tobacco. The nicotine pouches do not meet the descriptions of what a ‘poison’ is as prescribed in Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Act.
The product is easily found in supermarkets and local shops and the current absence of age restrictions exposes children to a potentially addictive product.
In Africa, it is common for the new tobacco products to be declared as food or even pharmaceutical products during importation.
It is apparent from these experiences that African Tobacco Control stakeholders should be wary of new tobacco industry products since there is no independent testing of their constituents nor biomarkers of their effects.
In addition, there is no research analysing their nicotine delivery. As part of its remedial measures, Kenya needs to prohibit the introduction of new tobacco products containing nicotine.
The governments and other stakeholders should enhance the capacity of tax authorities and administrators through continuous sensitisation and training.