Kenya - should not amend tobacco control regulations to please BAT..

Designated smoking area..

October 20, 2010 - British American Tobacco (BAT) Kenya has declined to support charity organizations because of stringent tobacco control laws that have not only banned smoking in public places, but has also prohibited cigarette companies from advertising their products and sponsoring social or charity events. Kenyan Parliament in August 2007 passed the National Tobacco Control Act and then signed into law by President Kibaki in September 2007. The law took effect within 8-months (came into force on 8th July 2008) after signing and bans tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, increases cigarette taxes and takes other strong steps to reduce tobacco use. (Kenya - BAT declines to support charities - tobacco control laws..)

Now tobacco manufacturers are demanding that the government rescind some provisions of the Tobacco Control Act 2007, which banned smoking in undesignated public places. BAT says the regulations are choking its business and lowering profit margins. BAT Chairman Evanson Mwaniki said during a meeting with Trade Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere that the laws were bad for business. He observed that some of the clauses were not meant to protect public health, but tailored to restrict trade. Contending that, if the situation continues, then return for manufacturers would go down hence job cuts, salary downsizing and lower tax for the Exchequer (department in charge of revenue).

“The clauses that target advertisement and promotions are not good for business. Enforcement is also an issue since public smoking has only been banned selectively hence introducing a market imperfection,” Mwaniki countered.

Though Mwakwere was non committal as to whether the law will be reviewed, he nevertheless expressed a need for more dialogue to thrash out the contentious issues.
“We know there is a problem since even the attorney-general has pointed out glaring flaws in the regulations. But while his advice is there, City bylaws as well as related ministries have continued to defy it with reasonable reasons. We have to keep on the dialogue,” Mwakwere said.

Mwakwere observed that Government records indicate 87 per cent of Kenya’s smokers are adopting “the deadly habit” in their youth, owing to aggressive advertisements by the cigarette manufacturers in the mass media, hence reason enough to regulate the industry.

Anti-tobacco lobby groups including the Regulatory Body Kenya Tobacco Control Agency (KTCA) are watching the recent developments keenly in the belief that the tobacco sector could be setting the stage for amendments that would end up defeat the intentions of the regulations.

“Currently, the Government is spending Sh20 billion to treat tobacco related diseases in Kenya. In return, it is getting Sh5 billion as tax from tobacco manufacturers. There is no sense in saying taxes will go down if tobacco is regulated,” said KTCA Communications Manager Lucy Anaya. She said the regulations should stay “for the public good.”

She argued that the taxes from the industry compared with government’s expenditure on treating tobacco related diseases do not justify amendments, especially after WHO recently aired a warning that cigarettes are coming laced with lead, a poisonous metal. Lead, said Anaya, leads to insanity, blindness and impotence.

Reference: BAT contests restricted smoking regulations by MWANGI MUIRURI, Businessdailyafrica, 9/27/2010.

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