KENYA – Kenyan health experts have warned about excessive spread of oral nicotine products in the local market which are easily accessible to school children and the youth leading to addiction and ultimately substance abuse.

Tobacco products contain toxins, cancer-causing agents and nicotine which can lead to extreme life-threatening health complications such as oral cancer and other types of cancer, risk of contracting cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cognitive impairment and infertility.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that causes feelings of temporary relaxation and stress relief when inhaled and there are more than 250 flavors of nicotine circulating in the Kenyan market including some that taste like chewing gum.

For instance, nicotine pouches which retail at a similar price point to cigarettes contain fibers from pine trees, eucalyptus, nicotine and flavoring agents and are marketed as a safer alternative for smoking addicts who want to quit the habit.

The Kenyan market has witnessed rapid innovations in the tobacco industry leading to the introduction of new liquid nicotine products such as vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, and e-pipes which can cause as much damage as traditional tobacco products.

Subsequently, the Treasury has made a proposal to change the taxation regime for liquid nicotine to KES70 per milliliter is a step in the right direction as the regulation is meant to constrain access and consumption of the new form of tobacco which is popular among young people.

Other tobacco regulations in Kenya include mandatory disclosures of tobacco product ingredients and revenues, smoke-free environments in public places and adjacent streets, walkways and verandahs as well as limit interactions between the tobacco industry and public officials.

Deputy Director in charge of Administration and Planning at Nakuru County Department of Health Dr Joy Mugambi noted that there is an increase in production of new tobacco products beyond e-cigarettes which have been used as a substitute for conventional cigarettes which poses a health risk for its users.

Due to sustained anti-tobacco use campaigns and tightened regulations on manufacture and marketing of tobacco products, concerned local and multinational firms were now promoting non-combustible nicotine products as safer alternatives to cigarette smoking,” she explained.

Dr Joy Mugambi highlighted that the design of the new tobacco products makes them easily accessible to minors while young people have been drawn to the new cigarette alternatives which continue to negatively affect their health systems.

She expressed her concern over the new flavors of nicotine, colors of packaging and concealed mode of consumption that were all meant to win customers particularly teens, observing that the shift by tobacco processors to the flavored design products is a ploy to capture the younger generation market.

Compared to regular cigarettes, whose health effects have been studied extensively over many years, studies on the impacts of e-cigarettes and oral nicotine products are still limited as it is only recently that the products gained popularity,” Dr Joy stated.

She added that tobacco use and exposure to its smoke as the leading causes of preventable deaths globally, causing seven million deaths every year while noting the rising burden of non-communicable diseases in the country which are caused mainly by four risk factors, tobacco being one of them.

Moreover, tobacco use costs economies enormously through increased healthcare costs as well as decreased productivity as it worsens health inequalities while intensifying poverty as the poorest people end up spending less on essentials.

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