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It’s time to fight tobacco intake, says a health expert.

20 June 2012, 08:15 Trudy Mbaluku

A senior Director in the ministry of public health and sanitation has urged policy makers, law enforcers and the general public to fight tobacco smoking in a bid to have a healthier population.

Speaking in a media briefing, Dr William Maina the Head of Non-Communicable Diseases Department at the Ministry of Public Health and sanitation strongly condemned cigarette smoking saying the habit leads to dependency due to the nicotine ingredient in tobacco products.

Dr. Maina revealed that 8 billion sticks of cigarette are smoked annually in Kenya.  Each costing sh5. This is approximately 40 billion shillings puffed up in Kenya.

 “Tobacco use causes chronic diseases such as stroke, cancer, diabetes, bronchitis, asthma and others,” Said Dr Main. “Over 600 people die every year from tobacco related ailments.”

Dr Maina added that one out of five of every male adult is a smoker exposing themselves to harmful effects of the product.

He added that the smoking habit is also creeping to school going children. He stated that almost 10 percent of the school going children is smokers in Kenya.

“If a child is living in a family where there is a smoker, the child is likely to be exposed to chest infections. This is because the child’s immunity cannot withstand  infections caused by second-hand smoking.  The exposures will increase the chances of contacting pneumonia and tuberculosis,” said the health doctor.  

According to the 2008/2009 Kenya Demographic and health survey ( KDHS), 18 percent of men aged 15-49 use tobacco products while 18 percent smoke cigarettes.

Dr Maina further posits that tobacco consumption reduced the government’s concerted effort so achieve Millennium development Goal number 6 of combacting Hiv/Aids, malaria and other diseases like tuberculosis.

“Tobacco is not only a risk for causing non-communicable diseases but also tobacco- related diseases.”

 He further argued that 90 percent of all cancers are due to smoking.

“Treating smoking-related diseases is very expensive compared to the tax revenue we get form the Tobacco industry,” asserted the medical doctor. “You wonder if this is good business!”

 The doctor claimed that Tobacco Industry has been increasing the nicotine content in tobacco products to enhance dependency by users.

“If we do not curb tobacco consumption in the country, we will be spending billions of shilling treating tobacco- related disease, “ he said

As you drive pass along Kenyatta Avenue, a city council sign reads smoking zone, a group of men chat cordially. The smoke goes up the sky through the well ventilated mabati structure. They seem to be having a good time. “Income  men next toa group  parliament has been urged to discuss laws pertaining tobacco use in the country.

Industry is coming out of the smokeless tobacco which according to the Dr Maina is a disguse tactic by the tobacco industry. “Even the smokeless tobacco products contain nicotine which is more additive that heroin and cocaine,” argued Dr Maina,

“We spent 15 billion in a year to mob out tobacco related diseases,” said Dr Maina. “For every dollar in revenue we get from the tobacco industry, we spend 30 dollars in treating  preventable disease caused by tobacco consumption,” added Dr Maina.

“We must continue to enforce the tobacco control laws not only in Nairobi but in every other

Vincent Kimosop the Executive Director, Institute of Legal Affairs (ILA)  condemned the resumption of public smoking saying it is  worrying for all.

He said ILA was keen to see the outcome of the budget formulation process whether taxation of tobacco products will be raised to acceptable world standard.

In the financial year 2009/2010, there was no increase in taxes on tobacco products.

Kimosop urged the government to increase taxes on tobacco products from the current 53 per cent to above 70 per cent, as required internationally

“We are calling for all law enforcement agencies; all sectors responsible and Kenyans in general to be involved in the fight and enforcement of this law, because we are all affected by cigarette smoking” said Kimosop.

According to the Economic of Tobacco Taxation in Kenya Report 2011, cigarettes in Kenya are cheap and are becoming more affordable over time.

The report states that 1 in every 5 men between the ages of 15 and 49 in Kenya  use tobacco, while 15 per cent of students use some type of tobacco product.

Kimosop attributed the high prevalence of tobacco consumption to the accessibility and affordability of the product.

Kimosop said the most effective way to decrease tobacco use is to increase the price of tobacco products through tax increases.

“Higher tobacco prices encourage smokers to quit and prevent youth from starting to smoke,” he added. “However, as much as taxation is the preferred method, there is need to sensitize people on the dangers of tobacco use.”

It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of all lung cancer related diseases are out of smoking.

Thus, patients with lung cancer must go through a process of treatment, laboratory investigation, surgical processes, chemotherapy, radiation and palliation (on and off) which requires a series of blood transfusions; all that are very expensive. We are suffering because of tobacco contraction related diseases in the country,” said Maina.

He said all Kenyans should be weary that the tobacco industry is coming out of smoked tobacco to smokeless tobacco; where manufacturers; add more nicotine to tobacco products in order to get a user hooked to them.

According to ILA Programme Officer, Emmah Wanyonyi, the tobacco control law is not for cigarette products only but encompasses all products including smoked; smokeless; sniffed and chewed tobacco that requires punitive laws to address the problem.

 “Thus, we must continue to enforce our tobacco laws. The enforcement agencies in this country must not relax on the laws, because the situation will be difficult to bring it under control,” added ILA

Research shows that globally, 600, 000 people are dying each year from passive smoking as 6 million smokers across the world puff away their lives.

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