The International Tobacco Control (ITC) has called on Kenya to introduce a ban on menthol cigarettes to help reduce tobacco consumption and initiation, particularly among youth.
The call comes as Kenya and the rest of the world recognize World No Tobacco Day which is observed every May 31.
By introducing a menthol ban, Kenya would join more than 30 countries and jurisdictions that have banned menthol cigarettes, including Canada, Senegal, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the EU.
An ITC survey highlighted the threat from menthol cigarettes, which are particularly popular in Kenya. About 1 in 5 smokers in Kenya who have a regular brand of cigarettes smoked menthols, higher than in most high-income countries.
The use of menthol in cigarettes reduces the harshness of tobacco smoke, which makes it easier for children and young adults to take up smoking.
The report describes the findings of a national survey that was conducted twice in 2012 and in 2018 by researchers from the University of Nairobi, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, and in collaboration with the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project), centered at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
The project asked 1,500 tobacco users and 600 non-tobacco users and found that the introduction of picture warnings significantly increased the effectiveness of warnings.
Awareness of the tobacco picture warnings increased from 64% to 72% of smokers; thinking about the health risks of smoking increased from 28% to 43% of smokers. While smokers who said that health warnings made them ‘a lot’ more likely to quit increased from 24% to 38%.
In addition to the menthol ban, the ITC called on the Kenyan government to design and implement more public education campaigns to reduce misperceptions of the harms of tobacco products and decrease the social acceptability of tobacco use. It also asks the government to increase access to cessation services to support tobacco users who want to quit, including increased training of physicians and health care providers.
Every year, more than 8,100 Kenyans die of tobacco-related diseases, while more than 220,000 children and more than 2,737,000 adults continue to use tobacco each day.