The International Institute of Legislative Affairs (IILA) has warned that delayed action on government obligations in tobacco control will impede the realisation of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan.
UHC is one of the Big Four economic pillars that President Kenyatta intends to achieve before leaving office in 2022 after serving his second and last term.
It is meant to ensure that Kenyans, regardless of their social standing, access affordable healthcare.
However, Ms Celine Awuor, the IILA programme officer in charge of capacity building, says the delay has not been helped, particularly by a pending court judgment on a petition against the Tobacco Control Regulations of 2014 meant to implement the Tobacco Control Act of 2007.
“The non-implementation of the Illicit Trade Protocol is a setback to the country to effectively address prohibited tobacco trading which subsequently affects tobacco control measures in protecting public health,” Ms Awuor says.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the use of tobacco products and exposure to tobacco smoke kills around six to seven million people every year.
At least five million of these deaths result from direct tobacco use and a further 600,000 from non-smokers exposed to second hand-hand smoke.
Ms Awuor said the delayed court judgment is a major obstacle.
“We are deeply concerned that five years down the line, the case is yet to be concluded. This delay holds back effective implementation of tobacco control and protection of public health. The implication is that it will be costly to public health,” she says.
The regulations were challenged by industry players in 2015 and have since gone through the court system, with the Supreme Court’s decision pending.
Kenya made progress on tobacco control by enacting the Tobacco Control Act meant to control production, manufacture, sale, labelling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products and regulate smoking in specified areas.
However, the country still lags behind on effective tobacco control as a public health agenda because of lack of regulations.
This has led to the continued death of people, with the costs to society from tobacco use on the upward trajectory.
Kenya, globally considered a leader in control of illicit trade in tobacco products through the Excisable Goods Management System (EGMS), can still make the proven tobacco control tools work for its citizens’ well-being.
According to Ms Awuor, ratification of the protocol will form a basis for stronger policy and legislative framework for the control of illicit trade in tobacco products in Kenya.
It will also give Kenya a voice in the global discussions as the world sets the foundation for implementation of the protocol.
Other than facilitating effective implementation of tobacco control in the country, the regulations are also critical in giving guidance on key areas such as operationalisation of the Tobacco Control Fund.
There is also the application of Graphic Health Warnings (GHWs) on tobacco products, public-tobacco industry interactions and protection against exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke among others.
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