The order by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to have the highly addictive and nicotine-laced British American Tobacco (BAT) owned oral cigarettes dubbed Lyft has exposed the underbelly of the manipulable rigorous government procedures by multinationals to circumvent the law thus exposing the population to grave health risks.
Through an internal correspondence to Pharmacy and Poisons Board Chief Executive Officer Dr Fred M. Siyoi, the CS said licensing of Lyft was illegal and the nicotine pouches neither meet the descriptions of “Part I poison nor Part II poison” as prescribed in the Pharmacy and Poisons Act.
Kagwe said that Kenya is a party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) and the ministry is at the forefront in ensuring that Kenya meets its obligations under the treaty.
“The ministry has noted with concern that the licensing of nicotine pouches, sold under the brand name “LYFT”, by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board was done contrary to the provisions of Section 25 of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act CAP 244.” Kagwe noted.
He declared the registration of nicotine pouches, Lyft, illegal and wants it deregistered.
BAT refers to the much condemned product as ‘tobacco-free modern oral nicotine pouch’ ranked as one of the new categories on their product portfolio.
“Our portfolio reflects our commitment to meeting the preferences of today’s adult smokers, while transforming tobacco by adapting to consumer and market changes with innovative tobacco and nicotine products. Our product portfolio comprises a range of high quality and innovative products, including cigarettes (combustible products), cut – rug tobacco (unprocessed tobacco) and our potentially reduced risk category of tobacco-free oral nicotine products. We refer to these products as our “New Categories”.” BAT’s official website reads in part.
Although BAT products are targeted for adult smokers, MoH raised a red flag in the manner in which the Lyft is sold to the public for violating provisions of Section 23 of CAP 244 as required.
This makes it easily abused by youth and children because it is cheap and available in kiosks and online shops. It can be bought in chemists, supermarkets and from local shops for as little as Sh20.
Medical experts and anti-tobacco lobby groups previously petitioned the government to ban the nicotine product sold across the counter and which is being abused by the youth and children.
The product, introduced into the Kenyan market in July last year and has in the last few months taken toll on majority of juveniles and teenagers due to its readily available nature, concealable and highly portable.
BAT has been involved in extensive below the line marketing of the tobacco derivative product and is popular among the youth because it has been marketed as a “cool” product.
Experts contend that this is misleading because it is harmful and a precursor to cancer and potentially predisposing millions of users to the terminal illness in their future stages of their life.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that nicotine is especially dangerous for teens whose brains are still developing.
WHO argues that exposure during adolescence can disrupt normal brain development and may have long-lasting effects such as increased impulsivity and mood disorders.
It can also cause miscarriage in pregnant women and sudden infant death syndrome.
Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca) has been vocal because the product is readily available to young people and is being sold on some of the major online shops as an accompaniment to alcohol.
“In view of the above therefore, you are required to furnish the ministry with comprehensive report on the criteria used and circumstances leading to the registration and licensing of the product under Pharmacy and Poisons Act.” Kagwe ordered vied an internal correspondence dated September 18, 2020 reference number Ref. No. MOH/BOARDS/13/Vol 1. (80).