KENYA—The proposed ban on e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches in Kenya has garnered support from the World Health Organization (WHO), citing “alarming evidence” of their disastrous health effects.
In September, nominated Senator Catherine Mumma tabled a motion advocating for a ban or strict regulation of e-cigarettes and new nicotine delivery products.
Senators rallied behind the motion, emphasizing the escalating abuse of nicotine and the surging usage of e-cigarettes among minors and students.
Despite the proven harm, these products are openly displayed in Kenyan shops and extensively promoted on social media.
The Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA), on the other hand, argues that such legislation would not only return former smokers to their old habits but would also deny current smokers a proven method of quitting.
Leading international scientists have repeatedly identified e-cigarettes as the most effective method for assisting smokers in quitting.
CASA also raised concern about e-cigarettes being confused with tobacco products, pointing out that e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and hence do not expose people to at least 15 types of cancer caused by smoking.
Tobacco use is the greatest preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths in the United States. It can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as a type of leukemia.
Each year in the United States, 660,000 individuals are diagnosed with cancer and 343,000 people die as a result of tobacco usage.
However, when countries make larger and longer-term investments in comprehensive cancer and tobacco control programs, fewer people use tobacco and develop or die from tobacco-related cancers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nicotine does not cause cancer, nor does it cause cardiovascular disease or many of the respiratory diseases associated with tobacco use.
However, WHO dismissed claims by supporters of nicotine products asserting that they aid traditional cigarette smokers in quitting.
In a statement, WHO asserted that there is an urgent need for action to control e-cigarettes to protect children and non-smokers and minimize health harms to the population.
The organization emphasized that e-cigarettes, as consumer products, lack demonstrated effectiveness in aiding tobacco cessation at the population level, with emerging evidence highlighting adverse health effects.
In addition to the statement, WHO released a technical note urging global action on electronic cigarettes.
Currently, 34 countries have banned the sale of e-cigarettes, 88 have no minimum age for purchase, while 74 others lack regulations for these harmful products.
WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized the urgency of implementing strict measures to prevent uptake, particularly among children and young people.
Dr. Tedros observed that kids are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use e-cigarettes and may get hooked on nicotine.
The organization, relying on multiple studies, highlighted the highly addictive nature of e-cigarettes with nicotine, as well as their established role in generating toxic substances known to cause cancer and increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.
WHO further noted that e-cigarette use can impact brain development, lead to learning disorders in young people, and adversely affect fetal development in pregnant women.
Calls for a ban on these products are echoed by the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (Ketca), a national network of health advocacy civil societies.
Ketca chairman Joel Gitali emphasized evidence of the tobacco industry and distributors recruiting primary school children through targeted advertising.
Currently, the Kenyan Senate awaits a legislative proposal to regulate vapes and other nicotine delivery products.
Senator Okong’o Omogeni raised concerns in September about the role of e-cigarettes resembling pens in escalating indiscipline rates in schools.
WHO highlighted that children aged 13–15 are using e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults in all WHO regions.
The organization pointed out the influence of social media in shaping attitudes, with even brief exposure associated with an increased intention to use these products.
Studies consistently reveal that young people using e-cigarettes are almost three times more likely to use cigarettes later in life.
Dr. Ruediger Krech, WHO Director for Health Promotion, underscored the alarming increase in e-cigarette use among children and young people, exceeding adult use in many countries.
The products’ diverse flavors, use of cartoon characters, and sleek designs contribute to their appeal to the younger generation.
In light of these concerns, the WHO calls for concerted efforts to address the rising use of e-cigarettes and nicotine products, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive ban to safeguard public health.