Tobacco manufacturers fingered for profiting off the pandemic

Tobacco manufacturers have been fingered for using the COVID-19 pandemic to weaken regulations limiting tobacco use.

This is according to a new report by STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog that analysed and ranked tobacco industries interference in 57 countries.

The report accuses tobacco firms of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by providing supportive resources to battle the crisis in a means to edge closer to government to interfere, derail and undermine health policies aimed at reducing tobacco use.

Interreference has been sighted as the greatest barrier to effecting tobacco control measures.

Kenya has been ranked among countries with the lowest levels of interference from its tobacco industry with a score of 9, a lower score implying lower levels of disruptions.

Brunei, France and Uganda have the lowest rates of interference while Japan ranks last with a score of 34.

Nevertheless, Kenya’s score has deteriorated from by seven points with the report sighting a resurgence of tobacco manufacturers’ influence in the country.

For instance, the report notes Kenya received donations from its tobacco industry to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund in spite of rules restricting government officials from receiving or lobbying for donations from the industry.

Further, Kenyan officials have been accused of having unnecessary interactions with tobacco firms with high ranking officials having attended the 2019 exporter of the year awards in which the British American Tobacco (BAT) scooped a lifetime award.

Moreover, Kenya’s listing of tobacco products as essential items under food and beverages during the lockdown has been tied to the tobacco’s industry ongoing influence.

The tobacco industry has remained in the limelight in spite of the pandemic with Lyft, an alternative tobacco product marketed by BAT making headlines for its popularity especially among the youth.

BAT has pushed the product administered as a nicotine pouch as an alternative to the traditional cigarettes.

The company however suffered a blow in October when Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe called for investigations into the licensing of the product by the Pharmacy and Poisons board.

Anti-tobacco lobbies have raised concerns over products ease of access especially by minors and have since called for more regulation and the passage of higher taxes touching on the nicotine pouches.