Government warns against rising use of vapes and e-cigarettes

The government has issued a warning against a rise in the use of nicotine pouches, vapes and electronic cigarettes among young people, even as it steps up efforts to reduce tobacco use.

Public Health and Professional Standards Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni said despite a decline in the use of tobacco from 12 per cent in 2014 to nine per cent in 2022, there is a proliferation of novel nicotine and emerging tobacco products. Ahead of the World No Tobacco Day on Friday, the PS said novel nicotine and emerging tobacco products like pouches, vapes and electronic cigarettes pose health risks.

She added that despite the risks, the products are often marketed as less harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes, with the target being the youth.

“They have appealing flavours and their claims on health are misleading,” she said on May 28. The PS said her ministry has stepped up efforts to regulate the use of novel nicotine and other emerging tobacco products as well as aligning laws that regulate the use of tobacco with the Constitution.

“The ministry, development partners and the civil society aim to leverage the celebrations to increase awareness of the dangers associated with conventional and new tobacco products,” Ms Muthoni said.

“A Bill with several amendments, including a ban on shisha, is under consideration.” The PS added that this year’s theme – Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference – aligns with the World Health Organization’s ‘Stop the Lies’ campaign.

Ms Muthoni added that the drive calls for an end to tobacco industry interference in health policies, a demand echoed by young people around the world who want governments to protect them from the dangers of these products. She said Kenya has made significant strides in tobacco control, including implementing stringent regulations and policies aimed at reducing use.

The strides include the establishment of a multi-sector task force to investigate novel nicotine and other emerging tobacco products as well as an enforcement team established to ensure compliance with tobacco control regulations and to crack down on illicit tobacco trade.

The PS cited the implementation of tobacco control laws and the 2007 Tobacco Control Act, which mandates graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and bans smoking in public places. She said the enforcement of smoke-free laws has led to a significant reduction in exposure to second-hand smoke, especially in public areas.

“Awareness campaigns, especially focusing on young people and vulnerable groups, have been intensified through various media platforms. The campaigns provide information on the risks associated with tobacco use,” the PS added.

Ms Muthoni said the objectives of the day include emphasising the adverse effects of tobacco and nicotine products on public health contributing to increased mortality in Kenya and other countries. She added that Kenya would reinforce its commitment to developing and enforcing health policies against tobacco and nicotine products, resisting industry influence.

To mark the day, the Ministry of Health will promote several activities including enhancing cessation services, initiating a clinic day for individuals in need of tobacco cessation services at selected hospitals as well as targeting selected secondary and primary schools.

The PS said the ministry would celebrate Kenya’s progress in combating tobacco, highlighting successes such as ‘Tobacco-Free Farms’ and reduced prevalence of its consumption.

“The ministry will ensure tobacco cessation services are accessible through the Social Health Insurance Fund, emphasising community-based models delivered through outpatient services to address affordability and physical access challenges,” Ms Muthoni said.

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