The law requiring cigarette makers to use graphic warnings on packets is yielding positive results with an increasing number of smokers saying the picture warnings made them ‘a lot’ more likely to quit.
As the world marks World No Tobacco Day, May 31, a new report by the Ministry of Health shows that Kenya is making positive progress towards combating smoking through strong tobacco control policies such as use of graphic health warnings.
According to the study conducted twice in 2012 and in 2018 by researchers from the University of Nairobi, the Kenya Medical Research Institute in collaboration with the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project), centered at the University of Waterloo, Canada, awareness of the warnings increased from 64 per cent to 72 per cent of smokers.
Equally, the percentage of smokers who think about the health risks of smoking increased to 43 per cent from 28 per cent while smokers who admitted that health warnings made them “a lot” more likely to quit increased to 38 per cent from 24 per cent.
Knowledge of many of the health effects caused by smoking increased between 2012 and 2018, the survey found out.
The survey is part of the 29-country ITC Project, which since 2002 has evaluated policies of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global health treaty that Kenya ratified in 2004.
Despite the positive milestones on use of tobacco usage, FCTC advises Kenya to increase the size of health warnings from the current 30 per cent to at least 50 per cent of the packaging surface area, and also to strengthen tobacco control measures.
The study also identified menthol cigarettes as a threat in Kenya where about one in five smokers who have a regular brand of cigarettes smoked menthols, higher than in most high-income countries.
Over two-thirds of smokers in Kenya incorrectly believe that menthols are less harmful than cigarettes.
Canada and the European Union banned menthol cigarettes because it reduces the harshness of tobacco smoke, which makes it easier for children and young adults to take up smoking.
Canada, Senegal, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the EU have banned menthol cigarettes, a move that has seen a significant reduction in menthol smokers.
The results of the Canadian menthol ban suggest that if Kenya were to ban menthol cigarettes, this would see 29,000 Kenyan smokers quit tobacco usage.
According to the Tobacco Atlas, over 8,100 people in Kenya die of tobacco-related diseases per year, while over 220,000 children and more than 2.7 million adults continue to use tobacco each day.
This yearly celebration under the theme “Commit to Quit” informs the public on the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco companies, what the World Health Organisation (WHO) is doing to fight the tobacco epidemic, and what people around the world can do to claim their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations.
According to WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, quitting is the best thing smokers can do to lower their risk from coronavirus, as well as the risk of developing cancers, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.
“We urge all countries to play their part by joining the WHO campaign and creating tobacco-free environments that give people the information, support, and tools they need to quit and quit for good.”
Globally, about 39 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women use tobacco. The highest smoking rates are currently found in Europe.